Fiction: East Meets West

Lieutenant Fahy cursed to himself. While he baked in the sun weighing sugar at San Carlos, the rest of his battalion prepared for the field against Geronimo. The assignment of handing out weekly rations to the Apache women was a great slap in the face. Fahy considered leaving the army if he didn’t have excitement soon. He read Thankful’s note testily:

Dearest Lieutenant,

My prayers about your safety have been answered with the news that you won’t join the others in the field. I am waiting to tell you something and want you here desperately. But do stay on at the reservation until your unit is out. I don’t understand why the men are so excited. They mustn’t care at all for us women who worry ourselves to death! I know that you will want for me to wish Lieutenant Barnhart all the best luck as he was picked to take your place. He is terrible down spirited about it. Some say he is a coward, but he seems just an overly sensitive fellow.

I have sent someone out to see you. I hope that you will like him as he is dear to me.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

Affectionate regards,

Thankful Crenshaw

Across the way and under a fly tent shaded by branches sat William sketching the Apache women as they squabbled over the weight of this or that. When the military took over handling the annuities, the weights had been fixed fairly, but the Indians, wary of being cheated in the past, kept a close eye. More often than not now it was the Indian women coming in with gathered hay for the army mounts who fixed their bundles with rocks hidden in the middle. The women didn’t trust the new unhappy officer.

Fahy fumed seeing William recording this less than heroic duty as if to purposely annoy him. And there was one of Kenyon’s missionaries handing an old and befuddled Apache a Bible tract in English. It would be almost laughable if it wasn’t so damned stupid. The missionaries had a way of getting involved in everything. They were energetic—he’d give them that.

Fahy figured the old shriveled heathen would use the paper covered with indecipherable words for kindling. And wasn’t it the government who spent money and men on these foolish American evangelists when the funds could be better spent on paying army personnel proper salaries or at least supplying them with more desert-friendly uniforms?

“No stone in bag? No stone in BAG?”

“Pardon?” Fahy asked the young woman before him. “Oh, no, it’s a perfectly fair measure . . .”

The willowy squaw with high cheekbones didn’t understand a word. Fahy admired her, sighing as he surveyed the crowd of women enjoying this waste of a day and wondered how he’d get through it, but luck shined upon him and the visitor Thankful had promised arrived.

Lieutenant Joyce called to Fahy. “Bully for us. A visitor bearing gifts.”

A young man dressed in a partial West Point uniform and a bandage around his head trailed Joyce.

The lieutenant stepped away from the scales to the annoyance of the women.

“Fahy, here’s someone you need to meet,” Joyce said with a grin. “Can you guess who it is? I did on the first go.”

Fahy fumed. While his men were out chasing Apaches, he was expected to entertain boys from the East? Fahy looked the cadet over for signs of the usual West Point arrogance he despised. The cadet on holiday had no mirth–just weird eyes and a pretentious cravat around his neck. “Should I know him?” Fahy asked Joyce, giving the intense young man a challenging stare.

“You are to marry my sister, sir,” Buck whispered.

“What? Why are you whispering?” Fahy demanded.

“Fahy, Thankful’s brother. . .” Joyce said.

“Oh, shit, you’re one of the twins from the Point! I should have seen it a mile away although you look nothing like I imagined.”

“Yes, well I guess you’ve heard of my troubles,” Buck said, touching his head.

Fahy rubbed his chin. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Fahy! You must be joking,” Joyce interfered. “He’s all Thankful ever talks about—worrying after him.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right. Something about a colored cadet roughing you up.”

“No.” Buck replied.

“No need to whisper, cadet. Men respect a strong voice,” Fahy said, slapping Buck’s back too hard.

Joyce cringed. “Seems the young man’s voice is damaged, lieutenant.”

“Oh, he’s sent here to recuperate then. Good. That’s nice for Thankful. She’s wanting company and I expect to be out in the field soon. She’s been a fair bit homesick of late.” Fahy caught Buck’s unfriendly look. “What’s the matter? Has something happened with Thankful?”

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Rape Culture Civil War Style

Restraint, boys . . .

Restraint, boys . . .

Good news! There was no such thing as “rape culture” among Northern soldiers fighting for the Union in America’s Civil War. Scholars looked for the tell-tale signs of “rape culture” and found none. No Rolling Stone frat parties gone awry, no Duke Lacrosse team—oh wait those things didn’t actually happen. Back to the Civil War. Despite what popular culture would have us believe about men and boys in America, most don’t rape–or think of rape. Many don’t even want to be around women anymore for fear of the “rape culture” witch hunt.

Oops. Back to the Civil War:

 Northern men in the 1860’s were supported by a culture that valued self-restraint. In fact self-restraint in men was seen as one of the top indicators of a truly masculine man. To lose control was seen as childish, feminine and kind of pathetic. Of course this does not mean that all men kept away from prostitutes or that all men were angels–there were a few cases of rape but astonishingly rare.

For all the bad press patriarchy gets,  the notion of the South going against the father (government) and the brotherhood (the northern states) created an interesting twist when it came to how the northern soldiers viewed southern women. This changed over the course of the war to be sure as the women went from outspoken vixens (she-devils) to co-combatants (stories of women luring soldiers to guard their homes only to shoot them in the head spread like wildfire and in some cases were true). There was a sense initially that messing with southern women was like messing with your best friend’s sister–not good. As time went on it seemed more soldiers fantasized about killing southern women than sleeping with them.

And what is this thing about rape during war anyway? There’s always plenty of hookers hanging around. Rape during war is mental assault against an opponent–what kind of man isn’t able to protect his women folk?  Again I will remind everyone that northern soldiers were hardly ever rapists (like most US men are hardly ever rapists). In the rare recorded cases the raping seemed to be more a thing done to slave women (considered southern property) and usually in front of their white southern female owners as if to warn them that it could happen to them if they weren’t careful. Some Union soldiers blamed the fiery southern women for prolonging the bloody war by convincing their men to keep fighting against all odds.

There were a few well-documented cases of gang rape done by colored troops and here the reasoning may have been more in line with revenge against their former white masters.

Here are my questions: When did self-restraint in men become something to be laughed at? When did men begin to cling to childhood and abdicate their proper place as men? What’s not cool about taking care of families (other than divorce courts being brutal on men)? When did childish women decide that unrestrained lust would make for better relationships? When did these same women start calling all men rapists?

There was a Cult of Womanhood back in the 19th century. Women had a great mission and a great power. Not everyone lived up to the ideal or even wanted to and that’s fine, but when a culture turns its people into children unable to use self control  and actually applauds self obsession and stupidity one wonders when the real men and women will stand up.

Essay prompted by THE VACANT CHAIR by Reid Mitchell

Drunks

A top the moral high ground!

A top the moral high ground!

I’ve had my fair share of less than stellar drunken moments running with the fast crowd and trying to keep up with my boyfriends’ drinking. And then my husband’s drinking. Such was life in the 20th century. Men and women were equals. “Anything you can do, I can do better,” was my hidden mantra when the boys came round.

Yet, looking back my father was right. Nothing good comes of a girl out past 12 in a saloon. Dancing on a slippery bar and crashing down with the hanging glasses  almost landed a friend in the hospital. How many places in Hoboken were we banned from? I can’t remember.

Now what does this have to do with history? For a brief shining moment in America there came upon the land the Cult of Womanhood. People nowadays look on this period as the ultimate joke against women. They think that the sinister members of the patriarchy, rubbing their hands together viciously,  devised a way in which women could be fooled into actually believing that their role in society mattered. They forced women to think that they  were an integral part of bringing forth a civilized nation. (Note: should one sex be more moral than the other?)

Of course women did drink and get knocked up and all, but the point was that in general they were to be the torch-bearers of the high ground and were to pass it on to the next generation. You see how devious this plan was? Women kinda fell for it (even as the very few smart ones saw through it and worked for free love and the right to wear pants).

A lot of women thought being with the kids felt right and that working in a coal mine wasn’t appealing. Many thought politicians were swine and were happy to steer clear of the pig pen. While they mourned the loss of their men in battle, most didn’t want to join them. Some will say the men were just throwing the women a bone whilst they went off to do real things like make war (and do boyish things like play video games in their pajamas all day).

Notice the stereotypical drunk face (code Irish).

Notice the stereotypical drunk face (code Irish).

There were women who bucked the whole marriage and family thing and were looked upon warily until they proved their mettle. They edited newspapers, traveled the world and became spies, etc. People like to say men don’t respect women, but do women respect men? Aren’t we all a bit self-righteously pointing fingers most of the time? Do we live in a fantasy land that says women are as strong as men until they get knocked out by a drunken football player? Or that women can get drunk and high and accuse all men of gang rape? Or that teenaged boys will consider sex with a hot teacher rape? Haven’t men and women been abdicating responsibility for their actions by blaming the other sex for centuries?

None of us want the moral high ground anymore. That’s for suckers. We want to do as we please and call it some form of sublime equality instead of a race to the gutter. We’re all only one sloppy drunk night away from killing someone on the rode to our “rights.” Men and women sit equally on the bar stools. We have our rights. We want more rights. But do we have love?

The waters are muddy once the intoxication wears off. Temperance women were laughed at and their battle lost. Some went on to fight for rights and others went quietly home to their husbands (some of them good and some of them bad). Rights are about me. Love is about you. Which am I willing to I fight for?

Knocked Up

Preggers Pinterest

Preggers
Pinterest

Knocking” began as a term for serious flirting circa 1800. Originally it was because you were knocking on the maiden’s “door” trying to “get in”. Understandably, this reference quickly changed to the actual act of “getting in” because beds knock against walls. If you leave your boots on, literally done at that time, you are “knocking boots“- a Southern U.S. term. Around 1813, the term “knocking up her boots” was common. A reference to the “missionary” position. By 1830, “knocked up” began as a reference to what we now know it as today. Sadly, it was a reference to a slave woman who became pregnant. {This can be verified via “Bing” search, and through searches of various history sources for; African-American History, Southern & Western U.S. History, Women’s History, etc:}www.answers.com

Is It Possible To Write About Happily Married Couples?

Happy?

Happy?

The problem is happy people are alienating. They’re annoyingly complimentary to their spouses. They remember birthdays and endlessly talk about fond memories from high school where they met and instantly fell in love. They find charm in their spouses maddeningly gross habits. Their children settle nearby and come over for dinner on Sundays.

The perfect past for the masses. 1876

The perfect past for the masses. 1876

But happy is a stupid word. Get happy. Okay . . . but here’s what I’ve found. They may be a struggle to write about at first because we assume happiness is some sort of lucky, kinda boring gift that some people get–damn them! But it’s a lie. Here’s the truth–there’s a lot of interesting things going on under the surface with happy couples. Things are more subtle. The crappy mood that kills a night and maybe a relationship in a novel is apologized for in a real marriage. How do we write about that complex mix of pride and humiliation that comes with knowing you’re wrong, admitting it and then making up for it? It seems boring on the surface when a good brawl or morphine spree will do the trick. And I LOVE a good morphine spree as much as the rest of you.

Have you noticed that people hate the word work? Strange. Work suggests to me that you actually care how something will turn out. Some people wait to be inspired–what a crazy way to waste life. If you’re a good husband or wife when you feel like it, have fun at the divorce court! John and Katherine Weldon probably still wouldn’t have gotten a divorce in The House on Tenafly Road even if it was acceptable because they’re workers. Screwed up workers, but still. Thank God, happiness comes and goes. It’s a shame that most movies and books stop at the kiss or the wedding. Crushes are like cheap candy, but marriage is an acquired taste–worth the effort in the end. For more on marriage visit :http://ladyinthehouse.net/2014/02/11/somehow-in-love/

This week is John and Katherine’s week–a week about screwed up love. If doing it right was easy we’d have short novels and no war. In honor of imperfect relationships I’m having a $.99 Kindle eBook sale on The House on Tenafly Road this upcoming weekend Feb 15-16 (the day after Valentine’s Day makes you begin to wish you had a morphine-addicted spouse–or maybe  realize, damn, you have it good).

So gather up your pennies (c’mon it won’t break the bank) and buy the book. Tell your friends, too–you know, the ones who like really falling in love with screwed up characters who redeem themselves. Or the ones who like page-turners with military heroes. Or the ones who like big books with maps. Love, death, maps and redemption–who could ask for anything more?

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Codependency Rocks

Too Near the Warpath

Too Near the Warpath

Okay, it doesn’t really rock, but it’s good for fiction. It’s not even considered a real condition by some mental health professionals. It used to be called “passive dependent personality.” But I thought that was the ideal of womanhood? Men, this is why we too are confused by constantly changing definitions of mental health! Sitting in a diner a few years back I overheard (because I was eavesdropping) a man telling his friend that what he really wanted was a good old-fashioned codependent relationship. My son and I laughed about it knowing how he felt. Throwing ourselves under buses for others and then resenting it were long family traditions we were proud of–until I went to an Alanon meeting and listened to the people who had been attending for years and recycling all of the abuse and heartache they’d experienced. It was kind of sickening.

My parents both came from alcoholic homes but managed to escape full-blown martyrdom but it’s a slippery slope when the addicts and alcoholics march back into the circle and you watch in your passive way as your kids fall for the charm of the druggie. And there is a charm. My father could sniff a heroin addict a mile away. I’d still be insisting he was cute and misunderstood.

Thank God Katherine McCullough came along as a character before I read Codependency No More which basically assigns every caring emotion, every angry emotion and every weird emotion to codependency status. Yes, Katherine is maddeningly passive as a young wife and mother, but give her a break, will you? Her parents are pleasant and abusive and controlling. Her husband is secretive, aloof and loving. Any girl would be confused.

He could be Katherine's father.

He could be Katherine’s father.

And she could quite easily be Katherine's mother.

And she could quite easily be Katherine’s mother.

Someone asked me why Katherine is so blind to her husband’s addiction. When writing Katherine my ideal man was an addict who finally sees the light and reforms–not a man who never was an addict. We codependents or passive dreamer types are an odd lot of screw-ups, but I’d rather write novels than sit in a church basement crying into my coffee. Sure, I cringe at some of Katherine’s familiar antics, but it’s with the knowledge of 4 more books for her to grow through. She was on the right track going  for the military guy though. I did that the second time around and discovered a sane, self-sufficient man can be oddly less boring than I thought.  We’ll just have to see if Katherine gets that lucky with John.

This week is their week–a week about screwed up love. If doing it right was easy we’d have short novels and no war. In honor of imperfect relationships I’m having a $.99 Kindle eBook sale on The House on Tenafly Road this upcoming weekend Feb 15-16 (the day after Valentine’s Day makes you begin to wish you had a morphine-addicted spouse–or maybe  realize, damn, you have it good).

So gather up your pennies (c’mon it won’t break the bank) and buy the book. Tell your friends, too–you know, the ones who like really falling in love with screwed up characters who redeem themselves. Or the ones who like page-turners with military heroes. Or the ones who like big books with maps. Love, death, maps and redemption–who could ask for anything more?

book cover createspace