6.1.2023 – fashionable world

fashionable world
system works respectfully
appointed distances

Adapted from the passage:

The place in Lincolnshire has shut its many eyes again, and the house in town is awake.

In Lincolnshire, the Dedlocks of the past doze in their picture-frames, and the low wind murmurs through the long drawing-room as if they were breathing pretty regularly.

In town, the Dedlocks of the present rattle in their fire-eyed carriages through the darkness of the night, and the Dedlock Mercuries, with ashes (or hair-powder) on their heads, symptomatic of their great humility, loll away the drowsy mornings in the little windows of the hall.

The fashionable world—tremendous orb, nearly five miles round — is in full swing, and the solar system works respectfully at its appointed distances.

As it appears on the book, Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.

5.31.2023 – shadows seemed to float

shadows seemed to float
down the stream with the current
float unresisting

Adapted from the line:

Nick looked down into the pool from the bridge.

It was a hot day. A kingfisher flew up the stream. It was a long time since Nick had looked into a stream and seen trout.

They were very satisfactory.

As the shadow of the kingfisher moved up the stream, a big trout shot upstream in a long angle, only his shadow marking the angle, then lost his shadow as he came through the surface of the water, caught the sun, and then, as he went back into the stream under the surface, his shadow seemed to float down the stream with the current, unresisting, to his post under the bridge where he tightened facing up into the current.

As it appears in Big Two-Hearted River: I by Ernie Hemingway.

5.30.2023 – but they were young yet

but they were young yet
there remained for them many
life’s uncut pages

Adapted from Jack London’s short story, Dutch Courage.

Back in the day, I worked at a publishing house.

They had an entire department devoted to creating the printing pages layout of a the books published by the publishing house.

Then, and maybe still, when a book is printed, the pages are not printed one at a time, like pages out of a copy machine and then bound together.

No Sir!

A book is printed out on sheets of paper, four feet wide and five feet long.

It seems to me that either 32 or 64 pages of a book were printed on one piece of paper.

Pages are printed on BOTH sides of this giant piece of paper.

A machine then folded and folded and folded this sheet of paper, origami style, so that when it was all over, what you had was a block of folded paper, with all the pages lined up in order.

Page 33 might be on the back of page 32, but when it was laid out on the paper, page 33 might be in the center of side 1, so page 32 had to be place in the correct corresponding place on side 2.

Layout was like a giant sudoku game.

A couple of things resulted from this process.

One was that sometimes, the page counted didn’t match up.

Did you ever wonder why you got a book and it had a couple of blank pages before the forward and after the end of the book?

And it is these blocks of 32 or 64 pages that make up the sections of pages that you can see in a book that has bound pages that have uncut edges.

Working in bookstores and libraries, I was taught that having an uncut edge was not a sign of sloppiness but instead the rough edged pages were a sign to those who knew, that the book had a sewn instead of a glued binding

But that was just the outer edge.

Of course, the inner edges of the book had to be cut, if for no other reason to remove the folded edges.

If those weren’t removed, the pages couldn’t be opened and the book couldn’t be read.

And there is the story of life’s uncut pages.

Some book collectors wanting a first edition, who also wanted it kept in mint condition could hardly be expected to want to read any book in question, the true collector just needed the book to complete their collection.

So the true collector bought first editions that were left UNCUT!

Early in their marriage, Young Eleanor perused the books in Franklin Roosevelt’s library and was dismayed to find so many books with uncut pages.

She had to tear open a couple pages just to see what the books were about.

“YOU DID WHAT?” asked Frank at lunch when she reported what she had done.

SO books with uncut pages at not uncommon.

Books with their stories wrapped up inside.

Mr. London, writing about two young men about to try and climb the famous Half Dome in Yosemite wrote this:

“What’s that for?” Gus asked, pointing to a leather-shielded flask which Hazard was securely fastening in his shirt pocket.

“Dutch courage, of course,” was the reply. “We’ll need all our nerve in this undertaking, and a little bit more, and,” he tapped the flask significantly, “here’s the little bit more.”

“Good idea,” Gus commented.

How they had ever come possessed of this erroneous idea, it would be hard to discover; but they were young yet, and there remained for them many uncut pages of life.

So many erroneous ideas.

But they were young yet, and there remained for them many uncut pages of life.

Pages that are waiting to be torn open.

Cut open.


Maybe not so carefully.

Only way to get at the story.

Moon and Half Dome – Ansel Adams – 1960

5.29.2023 – somebody should do

somebody should do
something … somebody? well …
why isn’t that you?


Reading the story, “A Black Civil War soldier’s unmarked grave Up North finally gets a headstone” by John Carlisle in the Detroit Free Press (May 27, 2023), I came across this quote:

I saw this and I said ‘Jeez, that’s not right that a soldier doesn’t have a headstone. Somebody should do something,‘ ” Kolehmainen said. “And actually, a friend said, ‘Well, why isn’t that somebody you? Do something.’”

For me, that kind of summed the basis of the American Citizen Soldier.

For ages, this tired old world has seen, as is says in the Bible, “… the time when kings go off to war, soldiers march off for King and County, SPQR, for the Fatherland, for the Motherland or the Homeland.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!

I use the line Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori or It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country on Memorial day without mentioning that in the WW1 poem, Dulce et Decorum est, Wilfred Owen wrote:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The old lie.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!

Then there is the American Citizen Soldier.

What was their motivation?

I have read a lot of history.

I have read a lot of military history.

I have read a lot of the military history of the United States.

And a certain feeling, a certain suspect animus or bias or maybe just a feeling is present in this history.

A feeling that was expressed by Mr. Kolehmainen in the mentioned Freep story.

I saw this and I said ‘Jeez, that’s not right.’

‘Somebody should do something!’

And actually, a friend said, ‘Well, why isn’t that somebody you?’

‘Do something.

Stephen Ambrose (and yes, I quote him reluctantly but there it is) wrote in his book, Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 – May 7, 1945, New York: Simon & Schuster (1997):

The Great War changed the language.

It made patriotic words sound hollow, unacceptable, ridiculous, especially for the next set of young Americans sent to Europe to fight over the same battlefields their fathers had fought over.

Nevertheless, as much as the Civil War soldiers, the Gls believed in their cause.

They knew they were fighting for decency and democracy and they were proud of it and motivated by it.

They just didn’t talk or write about it.

I saw this and I said ‘Jeez, that’s not right.’

‘Somebody should do something!’

And actually, a friend said, ‘Well, why isn’t that somebody you?’

‘Do something.

somebody should do
something … somebody? well …
why isn’t that you?

5.28.2023 – vibrant but distant

vibrant but distant
world love unpredictable with

In the New Yorker (Yorker, May 29, 2023, Issue 14 Volume 99), At the Galleries used this line in a review of two Yvonne Jacquette shows,

paintings (and drawings and prints) are vibrant but distant, expressing their love of the unpredictable world with equanimity.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, equanimity means evenness of mind under stress. equanimity suggests a habit of mind that is only rarely disturbed under great strain.

According to the Cambridge online dictionary, equanimity means a calm mental state, especially after a shock or disappointment or in a difficult situation.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, unpredictable means not predictable, such as not able to be known or declared in advance. 

According to the Cambridge online dictionary, unpredictable means likely to change suddenly and without reason and therefore not able to be predicted.

Put it all together and you get:

… paintings (and drawings and prints) are vibrant but distant, expressing their love of the not predictable, not able to be known or declared in advance, likely to change suddenly and without reason, world, with an evenness of mind and a calm mental state.

Vibrant but distant,

expressing love of the not predictable,

not able to be known

or declared in advance,

likely to change suddenly

and without reason,


with an evenness of mind

and a calm mental state.


That’s not bad is it?

A bit of free-verse, imagistic poetry almost maybe worthy to stand by itself.

Third Avenue (with reflection) III (2004–5)  Yvonne Jacquette

The complete review reads:

Since the late nineteen-seventies, the name Yvonne Jacquette has been synonymous with aerial landscapes: cities twinkling at night or patchwork rural expanses, seen from the high floors of skyscrapers or from low-flying planes.

These paintings (and drawings and prints) are vibrant but distant, expressing their love of the unpredictable world with equanimity.

Call the images realist if you insist, but their intricate patterns tilt toward abstraction, a reminder that paintbrushes aren’t cameras.

Two wonderful shows at the DC Moore gallery (on view through June 10) present very early and very late works by the American artist, who died in April, at the age of eighty-eight.

Instead of airborne perspectives, the show surprises with domestic vantage points, whether it’s a Maine meadow framed by floral curtains, from 1964, or the back of a billboard seen through the window of Jacquette’s Manhattan studio, from 2020. “Barn Ceiling” (above), from 1969, is a luminous, nearly seven-foot-tall interior that’s also a rigorous study in stripes (and, maybe, a post-and-beam riposte to Minimalism, then in its heyday).

Jacquette planned the exhibitions in recent months with her son (and fellow-painter), Tom Burckhardt.

One of the shows’ most touching moments is a rare still-life, from 2020 — film cannisters stored on shelves, their stacks suggesting miniature towers — that also reads as a portrait of Jacquette’s late husband, the Swiss filmmaker and photographer Rudy Burckhardt.

5.27.2023 – rain plays a little

rain plays a little
sleep song on our roof at night
… and I love the rain

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes, 1994 by Alfred A. Knopf.

It’s been dry.

It’s been dry here in the Low Country of South Carolina.

One mile from the Atlantic Ocean and there isn’t enough water on the land, despite how much water is next to the land.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Low Country is Abnormally Dry but not in a drought.

And it has started to rain.

A storm has anchored itself off the coast of South Carolina and the lows and highs and storm fronts have locked this storm into place over head and it is going to rain.

It will most likely rain for the next day.

It might rain for the next two days.

It could rain for the next three days.

As you might guess, it is Memorial Day Weekend.

I think that pretty much guarantee’s rain for the next three days.

We live in an ocean side resort community.

People have put a lot of time, money and effort into arranging a Memorial Day vacation at the shore.

I think that pretty much guarantee’s rain for the next three days.

We live in the south of South Carolina.

Life here is designed to be lived outdoors.

Miles of beaches, acres of golf courses and very little opportunity to do anything under cover or indoors.

I think that pretty much guarantee’s rain for the next three days.

I think of the weather jokes I learned during 20 years of working in local TV news.

What do you call the day that follows two days of rain?


By law, the seventh day of a seven day forecast is always warm and sunny. You just never get to that seventh day …

Turn a frown upside down … you get rain in your nose.

It is so true that everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.

And I can’t do anything about it.

I guarantee rain for the next three days.

So I will watch it.

So I will listen to it.

And without other options, I will love it.

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

5.26.2023 – wonders they offer

wonders they offer
all we have to do is step
outside look listen

In the New York Times Guest Opinion piece, Three Years After a Fateful Day in Central Park, Birding Continues to Change My Life, (I added a pdf link to this wonderful article for those who don’t have NYT access and I invite your to enjoy it) Christian Cooper writes:

 They can fly.

We see them launch themselves effortlessly up into a medium with no boundaries while we remain earthbound, and we are inspired to dream.

Imagine watching land and sea unfold beneath you not through the windows of an airplane but under your own power.

The things that you’ve left behind recede to insignificance, put into new perspective by a towering vantage point.

What it must be like to hang suspended on the wind, how radically different to conceive of movement not in two dimensions, not just as backward and forward, left and right, but in three — always infinite possibilities of direction, the body rising and falling at will.

We lift our gaze skyward to the birds and see what it means to be free.

I believe that birds in the wild are meant to inspire such passions in us all.

The wonders they offer are always available, freely given, to anyone willing to partake.

All we have to do is step outside, look and listen.

Of late, my sister Lisa has been encouraging me to step outside, look and listen.

As we were out last night for our walk, the evening was filled with bird song.

It is said that Theodore Roosevelt could identify hundreds of birds just by sound alone.

Late in his life, Mr. Roosevelt sat in a forest in Britain.

During the next twenty-four hours he either heard or saw forty-two species of birds. This beat by one the total that Sir Edward Grey had been able to identify in the New Forest.

From the point of view of melody, there was no contest at all.

When he strolled around the house, or jogged down the hill to bathe, his ears rang with the calls of thrashers in the hedgerows and herons in the salt marsh, the hot-weather song of indigo buntings and thistle finches, the bubbling music of bobolinks, the mew and squeal of catbirds, the piercing cadence of the meadowlark, the high scream of red-tail hawks.

(from Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris)

Last night I could hear the chickadees and the cardinals and the mockingbirds all at once.

I can identify the mocking bird by the white slashes on its wings, but the only other I know about it is that it is a sin to kill a mocking bird.

Most folks know the quote “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy…but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Odd thing about about that quote?

It wasn’t said by Atticus Finch or Gregory Peck.

It was said by Miss Maudie, the neighbor lady that Scout Finch asked what her father meant when he said, “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

But I digress.

Out walking on a fine evening, feeling fine and listening to birds who don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.

Much like Alice Cooper’s “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

I think it might also piss of God when we heard birdsong and don’t notice it.

It is rare for folks, me included, to include the rest of Ms. Walker’s thought.

“People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

I look at the photo I took of a heron.

It only takes one click glance to understand why this bird is called the Great Blue Heron.

Take a longer glance and you think what else could anyone have named this bird?

As Jesus also said about lilies, ” … I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

It was William Blake who wrote, “When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius, lift up thy head!

And yet …

Again as Mr. Cooper writes:

We lift our gaze skyward to the birds and see what it means to be free.

The wonders they offer are always available, freely given, to anyone willing to partake.

All we have to do is step outside, look and listen.

I plan to spend more time outside.

I plan to look.

I plan to listen.

5.25.2023 – I declare I don’t

I declare I don’t
know how the world gets along
with men runnin’ it

Sorry folks but I got Mr. Thurber on the brain as I plan a possible visit to his home in Columbus, Ohio, where many of his stories took place.

Well, on the one hand I am sorry.

On the other hand, I am not sorry as I am re-reading and re-enjoying all over again the fun of his prose (with the wonderful editing of the Harold Ross so easily evident.)

I am fond of pointing out that Mr. Thurber is like so many Ohioans, Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, and Anita Baker, who achieved great and wonderful things, once they left Ohio.

To further the point, consider the list of Presidents from Ohio, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, Taft and Harding.

I will not point out that this list includes 2 Presidents that were shot and 1 that was poisoned, it is said, by his wife.

If you ever see a photo of Florence Mabel Harding, you might be reminded of the famous exchange between Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill when Ms. Astor said, “Winston, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee”, to which Mr. Churchill responded, “Nancy, if you were my wife … I’d drink it!”

But I digress.

For today, here is another one of my favorites that often is overlooked as while it IS a Columbus story, it is NOT included in My Life and Hard Times.

The Figgerin’ of Aunt Wilma

When I was a boy, John Hance’s grocery stood on the south side of Town Street, just east of Fourth, in the Central Market region of Columbus, Ohio. It was an old store even then, fifty-two years ago, and its wide oak floor boards had been worn pleasantly smooth by the shoe soles of three generations of customers. The place smelled of coffee, peppermint, vinegar, and spices. Just inside the door on the left, a counter with a rounded glass front held all the old-fashioned penny candies–gumdrops, licorice whips, horehounds, and the rest–some of them a little pale with age. On the rear wall, between a barrel of dill pickles and a keg of salt mackerel in brine, there was an iron coffee grinder, whose handle I was sometimes allowed to turn.

Once, Mr. Hance gave me a stick of Yucatán gum, an astonishing act of generosity, since he had a sharp sense of the value of a penny. Thrift was John Hance’s religion. His store was run on a strictly cash basis. He shared the cost of his telephone with the Hayes Carriage Shop, next door. The instrument was set in a movable wooden cubicle that could be whirled through an opening in the west wall of the store. When I was ten, I used to hang around the grocery on Saturday afternoons, waiting for the telephone to disappear into the wall. Then I would wait for it to swing back again. It was a kind of magic, and I was disappointed to learn of its mundane purpose–the saving of a few dollars a month.

Mr. Hance was nearly seventy, a short man with white hair and a white mustache and the most alert eyes that I can remember, except perhaps Aunt Wilma Hudson’s. Aunt Wilma lived on South Sixth Street and always shopped at Mr. Hance’s store. Mr. Hance’s eyes were blue and capable of a keen concentration that could make you squirm. Aunt Wilma had black agate eyes that moved restlessly and scrutinized everybody with bright suspicion. In church, her glance would dart around the congregation seeking out irreverent men and women whose expressions showed that they were occupied with worldly concerns, or even carnal thoughts, in the holy place. If she lighted on a culprit, her heavy, dark brows would lower, and her mouth would tighten in righteous disapproval. Aunt Wilma was as honest as the day is long and as easily confused, when it came to what she called figgerin’, as the night is dark. Her clashes with Mr. Hance had become a family legend. He was a swift and competent calculator, and nearly fifty years of constant practice had enabled him to add up a column of figures almost at a glance. He set down his columns swiftly on an empty paper sack with a stubby black pencil. Aunt Wilma, on the other hand, was slow and painstaking when it came to figgerin’. She would go over and over a column of numbers, her glasses far down on her nose, her lips moving soundlessly. To her, rapid calculation, like all the other reckless and impulsive habits of men, was tainted with a kind of godlessness. Mr. Hance always sighed when he looked up and saw her coming into his store. He knew that she could lift a simple dollar transaction into a dim and mystic realm of confusion all her own.

I was fortunate enough to be present one day in 1905 when Mr. Hance’s calculating and Aunt Wilma’s figgerin’ came together in memorable single combat. She had wheedled me into carrying her market basket, on the ground that it was going to be too heavy for her to manage. Her two grandsons, boys around my own age, had skipped out when I came to call at their house, and Aunt Wilma promptly seized on me. A young’un, as she called everybody under seventeen, was not worth his salt if he couldn’t help a body about the house. I had shopped with her before, under duress, and I knew her accustomed and invariable route on Saturday mornings, when Fourth Street, from Main to State, was lined with the stands of truck gardeners. Prices were incredibly low in those days, but Aunt Wilma questioned the cost, the quality, and the measure of everything. By the time she had finished her long and tedious purchases of fresh produce from the country, and we had turned east into Town Street and headed for Mr. Hance’s store, the weight of the market basket was beginning to pain my arm. “Come along, child, come along,” Aunt Wilma snapped, her eyes shining with the look of the Middle Western housewife engaged in hard but virtuous battle with the wicked forces of the merchandising world.

I saw Mr. Hance make a small involuntary gesture with his right hand as he spied Aunt Wilma coming through the door. He had just finished with a customer, and since his assistant was busy, he knew he was in for it. It took a good half hour for Aunt Wilma to complete her shopping for groceries, but at length everything she wanted was stacked on the counter in sacks and cans and boxes. Mr. Hance set deftly to work with his paper sack and pencil, jotting down the price of each article as he fitted it into the basket. Aunt Wilma watched his expert movements closely, like a hostile baseball fan waiting for an error in the infield. She regarded adroitness in a man as “slick” rather than skillful.

Aunt Wilma’s purchases amounted to ninety-eight cents. After writing down this sum, Mr. Hance, knowing my aunt, whisked the paper bag around on the counter so that she could examine his addition. It took her some time, bending over and peering through her glasses, to arrive at a faintly reluctant corroboration of his figgerin’. Even when she was satisfied that all was in order, she had another go at the column of numbers, her lips moving silently as she added them up for the third time. Mr. Hance waited patiently, the flat of his hands on the counter. He seemed to be fascinated by the movement of her lips. “Well, I guess it’s all right,” said Aunt Wilma, at last, “but everything is so dear.” What she had bought for less than a dollar made the market basket bulge. Aunt Wilma took her purse out of her bag and drew out a dollar bill slowly and handed it over, as if it were a hundred dollars she would never see again.

Mr. Hance deftly pushed the proper keys on the cash register, and the red hand on the indicator pointed to $.98. He studied the cash drawer, which had shot out at him. “Well, well,” he said, and then, “Hmm. Looks like I haven’t got any pennies.” He turned back to Aunt Wilma. “Have you got three cents, Mrs. Hudson?” he asked.

That started it.

Aunt Wilma gave him a quick look of distrust. Her Sunday suspicion gleamed in her eyes. “You owe me two cents,” she said sharply.

“I know that, Mrs. Hudson,” he sighed, “but I’m out of pennies. Now, if you’ll give me three cents, I’ll give you a nickel.”

Aunt Wilma stared at him cautiously.

“It’s all right if you give him three cents and he gives you a nickel,” I said.

“Hush up,” said Aunt Wilma. “I’m figgerin’.” She figgered for several moments, her mouth working again.

Mr. Hance slipped a nickel out of the drawer and placed it on the counter. “There is your nickel,” he said firmly. “Now you just have to give me three cents.”

Aunt Wilma pecked about in her purse and located three pennies, which she brought out carefully, one at a time. She laid them on the counter beside the nickel, and Mr. Hance reached for them. Aunt Wilma was too quick for him. She covered the eight cents with a lean hand. “Wait, now!” she said, and she took her hand away slowly. She frowned over the four coins as if they were a difficult hand in bridge whist. She ran her lower lip against her upper teeth. “Maybe if I give you a dime,” she said, “and take the eight cents… It is two cents you’re short, ain’t it?”

Mr. Hance began to show signs of agitation. One or two amused customers were now taking in the scene out of the corners of their eyes. “No, no,” said Mr. Hance. “That way, you would be making me a present of seven cents!” This was too much for Aunt Wilma. She couldn’t understand the new and preposterous sum of seven cents that had suddenly leaped at her from nowhere. The notion that she was about to do herself out of some money staggered her, and her eyes glazed for a moment like a groggy prizefighter’s. Neither Mr. Hance nor I said anything, out of fear of deepening the tangle. She made an uncertain move of her right hand and I had the wild thought that she was going to give Mr. Hance one of the pennies and scoop up the seven cents, but she didn’t. She fell into a silent clinch with the situation and then her eyes cleared. “Why, of course!” she cried brightly. “I don’t know what got into me! You take the eight cents and give me a dime. Then I’ll have the two cents that’s coming to me.” One of the customers laughed, and Aunt Wilma cut him down with a swift glare. The diversion gave me time to figure out that whereas Mr. Hance had been about to gain seven cents, he was now going to lose a nickel. “That way, I would be making you a present of five cents, Mrs. Hudson,” he said stiffly. They stood motionless for several seconds, each trying to stare the other down.

“Now, here,” said Mr. Hance, turning and taking her dollar out of the still open cash drawer. He laid it beside the nickel and the pennies. “Now, here,” he said again. “You gave me a dollar three, but you don’t owe me a dollar three–you owe me five cents less than that. There is the five cents.” He snatched it up and handed it to her. She held the nickel between thumb and forefinger, and her eyes gleamed briefly, as if she at last comprehended the peculiar deal, but the gleam faded. Suddenly she handed him his nickel and picked up her dollar and her three cents. She put the pennies back in her purse. “I’ve rung up the ninety-eight cents, Mrs. Hudson,” said Mr. Hance quickly. “I must put the dollar back in the till.” He turned and pointed at the $.98 on the indicator. “I tell you what. If you’ll give me the dollar, I’ll give you the nickel and we’ll call it square.” She obviously didn’t want to take the nickel or give up the dollar, but she did, finally. I was astounded at first, for here was the penny-careful Mr. Hance knocking three cents off a bill, but then I realized he was afraid of losing the dollar and was willing to settle for the lesser of two evils.

“Well,” said Aunt Wilma irritably, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re trying to do.”

I was a timid boy, but I had to plunge into the snarl, if only on behalf of family honor. “Gee, Aunt Wilma,” I told her, “if you keep the nickel, he’s giving you everything for ninety-five cents.”

Mr. Hance scowled hard at me. He was afraid I was going to get him in deeper than he already was. “It’s all right, son,” he said. “It’s all right.” He put the dollar in the till and shoved the drawer shut with a decisive bang, but I wasn’t going to give up.

“Gee whizz, Aunt Wilma,” I complained, “you still owe him three cents. Don’t you see that?”

She gave me the pitying glance of a superior and tired intelligence. “I never owed him three cents in my life,” she said tartly. “He owes me two cents. You stay out of things you don’t understand.”

“It’s all right,” said Mr. Hance again, in a weary voice. He was sure that if she scrabbled in her purse again for the three pennies, she would want her dollar back, and they would be right where they had started. I gave my aunt a look of disenchantment.

“Now, wait!” she cried suddenly. “Maybe I have the exact change! I don’t know what’s got into me I didn’t think of that! I think I have the right change after all.” She put back on the counter the nickel she had been clutching in her left hand, and then she began to peck at the coins in her purse and, after a good minute, arranged two quarters, four dimes, Mr. Hance’s nickel, and three pennies on the counter. “There,” she said, her eyes flashing triumph. “Now you give me my dollar back.”

Mr. Hance sighed deeply, rang out the cash drawer by pushing “No Sale,” and handed her the dollar. Then he hastily scraped up the change, deposited each coin in its proper place in the till, and slammed the drawer shut again. I was only ten, and mathematics was not my best study, but it wasn’t hard to figure that Mr. Hance, who in the previous arrangement had been out three cents, was now out five cents. “Good day, Mrs. Hudson,” he said grimly. He felt my sympathetic eyes on him, and we exchanged a brief, knowing masculine glance of private understanding.

“Good day, Mr. Hance,” said Aunt Wilma, and her tone was as grim as the grocer’s.

I took the basket from the counter, and Mr. Hance sighed again, this time with relief. “Goodbye, goodbye,” he said with false heartiness, glad to see us on our way. I felt I should slip him the parsley, or whatever sack in the basket had cost a nickel.

“Come on, child,” said Aunt Wilma. “It’s dreadfully late. I declare it’s taken hours to shop today.” She muttered plaintively all the way out of the store.

I noticed as I closed the door behind us that Mr. Hance was waiting on a man customer. The man was laughing. Mr. Hance frowned and shrugged.

As we walked east on Town Street, Aunt Wilma let herself go. “I never heard of such a thing in all the born days of my life,” she said. “I don’t know where John Hance got his schooling, if he got any. The very idea–a grown man like that getting so mixed up. Why, I could have spent the whole day in that store and he’d never of figgered it out. Let him keep the two cents, then. It was worth it to get out of that store.”

“What two cents, Aunt Wilma?” I almost squealed.

“Why, the two cents he still owes me!” she said. “I don’t know what they teach you young’uns nowadays. Of course he owes me two cents. It come to ninety-eight cents and I give him a dollar. He owed me two cents in the beginning and he still owes me two cents. Your Uncle Herbert will explain it to you. Any man in the world could figger it out except John Hance.”

I walked on beside her in silence, thinking of Uncle Herbert, a balding, choleric man of high impatience and quick temper.

“Now, you let me explain it to your Uncle Herbert, child,” she said. “I declare you were as mixed up as John Hance was. If I’d of listened to you and given him the three cents, like you said, I’d never of got my dollar back. He’d owe me five cents instead of two. Why, it’s as plain as day.”

I thought I had the solution for her now, and I leaped at it. “That’s right, Aunt Wilma,” I almost yelled. “He owed you a nickel and he gave you the nickel.”

Aunt Wilma stabbed me with her indignation. “I gave him the nickel,” she said. “I put it on the counter right there under your very eyes, and you saw him scoop it up.”

I shifted the market basket to my left arm. “I know, Aunt Wilma,” I said, “but it was his nickel all the time.”

She snorted. “Well, he’s got his precious nickel, ain’t he?” she demanded. I shifted the basket again. I thought I detected a faint trace of uneasiness in her tone. She fell silent and quickened her cadence, and it was hard for me to keep up with her. As we turned south into Sixth Street, I glanced up and saw that she was frowning and that her lips were moving again. She was rehearsing the story of the strange transaction for Uncle Herbert. I began to whistle. “Hush up, child,” she said. “I’m figgerin’.”

Uncle Herbert was sitting in the living room, eating an apple. I could tell from his expression that he was in one of his rare amiable moods. Aunt Wilma grabbed the basket away from me. “Now, you let me explain it to your uncle,” she said. “You wait till I get back.” She sailed out of the room on her way to the kitchen.

A little breathlessly, I told Uncle Herbert the saga of Aunt Wilma’s complicated financial quandary. He was chuckling when she came back into the room.

Uncle Herbert’s amusement nettled her. “The boy got it wrong,” she said accusingly. “He didn’t tell it right. He was ever’ bit as mixed up as John Hance.” Uncle Herbert’s chuckling increased to full and open laughter. Aunt Wilma glared at him until he subsided. “Now, Herbert, you listen to me,” she began, but he cut in on her.

“If Hance ever gives you that two cents he owes you, Wilma,” he said, “I tell you what you have to do to square accounts. Someday you’re going to have to give him a dime for three cents.” He began to laugh again.

Aunt Wilma Hudson stared at each of us in turn, with a look of fine, cold scorn, and then she raised both her hands and let them fall helplessly. “I declare,” she said, “I don’t know how the world gets along with the men runnin’ it.”

From Alarms and Diversions by James Thurber, 1957, Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 90 Great Russell Street, London, W.C.1.

5.24.2023 – hurrying hundreds

hurrying hundreds
turned into thousands, reasons
leaps bounds hops skips jumps

The Shore and the Sea

A single excited lemming started the exodus, crying, “Fire!” and running toward the sea. He may have seen the sunrise through the trees, or waked from a fiery nightmare, or struck his head against a stone, producing stars. Whatever it was, he ran and ran, and as he ran he was joined by others, a mother lemming and her young, a nightwatchlemming on his way home to bed, and assorted revelers and early risers.

“The world is coming to an end!” they shouted, and as the hurrying hundreds turned into thousands, the reasons for their headlong flight increased by leaps and bounds and hops and skips and jumps.

“The devil has come in a red chariot!” cried an elderly male. “The sun is his torch! The world is on fire!”

“It’s a pleasure jaunt,” squeaked an elderly female.

“A what?” she was asked.

“A treasure hunt!” cried a wild-eyed male who had been up all night. “Full many a gem of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.”

“It’s a bear!” shouted his daughter. “Go it!” And there were those among the fleeing thousands who shouted “Goats!” and “Ghosts!” until there were almost as many different alarms as there were fugitives.

One male lemming who had lived alone for many years refused to be drawn into the stampede that swept past his cave like a flood. He saw no flames in the forest, and no devil, or bear, or goat, or ghost. He had long ago decided, since he was a serious scholar, that the caves of ocean bear no gems, but only soggy glub and great gobs of mucky gump. And so he watched the other lemmings leap into the sea and disappear beneath the waves, some crying “We are saved!” and some crying “We are lost!” The scholarly lemming shook his head sorrowfully, tore up what he had written through the years about his species, and started his studies all over again.

MORAL: All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.

From Further Fables for Our Time by James Thurber, Hamish Hamilton, Ltd. 90 Great Russell Street, London, W.C.1

5.23.2023 – worse sinner ever

I’m worse sinner than
dared imagine and more loved
than ever dared hope

In the New York Times Opinion Piece / Obit titled, Tim Keller Taught Me About Joy, by David Brooks, Mr. Brooks writes about Mr. Keller:

On the cross, Tim wrote, Jesus was “putting himself into our lives — our misery, our mortality, so we could be brought into his life, his joy and immortality.”

He enjoyed repeating the saying “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.”

Another online source explained that last line this way.

The centerpiece and underpinning of Keller’s ministry was his teaching of the doctrine of the gospel, emphasizing the doctrines of total depravity, unmerited grace and substitutionary atonement. This teaching is summarized in his oft-used explanation, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

Mr. Brooks writes that:

He didn’t fight a culture war against that Manhattan world.

His focus was not on politics but on “our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, that fail to satisfy us even when we get them.”

Tim’s happy and generous manner was based on the conviction that we are born wired to seek delight, and we can find it. “

Anybody who has tasted the reality of God knows anything is worth losing for this,”

Tim preached, “and nothing is worth keeping if I’m going to lose this.”

I have written before that I know salvation is to be worked out with fear and trembling.

As I am a worse sinner than I ever dared imagine, how could it be otherwise?

At the same time, bold will I approach the throne of grace through the gift OF grace through Jesus.

As I am more loved than I ever dared hope, how could it be otherwise.

Nothing is else is worth keeping.

I haven’t been much aware of Tim Keller.

Maybe I should have been.

Tim KellerCredit…James Estrin/The New York Times