Flowers and Stone

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Flowers and Stone

Thank you all for dropping by today.  I hope it was the title of this post that enticed you to do so.

Many of you may be aware that early last year I took my debut novel, “DAYDREAM’S DAUGHTER, NIGHTMARE’S FRIEND” down from Amazon.  (I’ve recently discovered that in my haste to do so, I only removed the e-book format and it is still there in paperback format, but hopefully, no one’s buying it).  I did this, because although it received many positive reviews, I just happened to open a paperback copy one day to find some very glaring “hiccups.”  I was so blown away (that they were glaring…at least to me) that I rushed to Amazon and yanked it down with such force, I think I hurt my arm. (I’m sorry, poor arm).

Anyway, with running the hugely busy and successful communities known as RRBC & RWISA, I…

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The Murder of My Uncle Stanley

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“In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove. In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Alfred Lord Tennyson – ‘Locksley Hall’

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The Murder of My Uncle Stanley

‘It was a simple dream! Stanley Balsinger wanted to be the owner of a ‘Service Station’.

A large subset of that dream was to marry Johnnie, his long-time sweetheart, to live in quiet harmony with nature and with their God…to mirror a nurturing and peaceful life he had known.

At age 32 in the year of 1956, his dream of a service station came true, and he married Johnnie, his long-time sweetheart. One of his older brothers, John, had owned for years a popular service station in Knoxville, so it could be said ownership of such a business was in his blood.

There were blissful years to follow for Uncle Stanley. His parents, my grandparents (of course!), lived a short distance away, and there were many family weekends through this period when his siblings and their families would join in quiet weekend reunions, with good southern home cooking, churned home-made vanilla ice cream, juicy watermelons, new family gossip, and Stan’s Mom giving one of her long famous prayer wails, asking for blessings and forgiveness of sins…tears flowed and emotionally stirred souls let out gasps and moans. It was a fundamental cultural link, ‘sinners facing their angry but forgiving God’, a bible-belt heritage long on generational gravity.

In 1964 Susan was born, a daughter who was given much doting and love, a true blessing for the family… Her daddy was so proud of his beautiful daughter, and she got pretty much anything she wanted. The script for the family’s lives were natural and seemingly ordained.

In 1978, tragedy struck and left Johnnie and Susan heart-broken.

The location of Uncle Stanley’s Gulf Station was in a more isolated section of Knoxville than his older brother John’s station. My Uncle John’s station was on one of Knoxville’s busiest metro street corners and John’s hard work brought a long list of steady customers and friends. There were never any great competitive edginess in the brothers’ two stations – just sharing of ideas on how to grow and sustain a customer base.

Around 7:00 PM on Friday, April 21, 1978, Uncle Stanley was working alone at his station when 29-year-old Richard Houston robbed the station and took Stan’s wallet. The robbery was not enough for the miserable bastard. He ordered Stanley to a rest room on one side of the station, shoved him inside, and shot him three times. The miserable thug shot Stan in the mouth, and, while my uncle writhed in pain on the rest room floor, Houston shot him twice more in the heart and upper abdomen.

Houston slammed the door, got in his car and left.

Houston then went to a motel where he was staying, had three beers, had sex with a woman sharing his room, and shortly after their ‘fun time’ the two left to get fried chicken.

As timing would have it, a customer pulled into the service station for gas and saw Houston leaving, ultimately found Uncle Stanley in the rest room, and called the police.

The observant gas customer was very thorough in describing the criminal – six feet tall, around 170 pounds, short Afro haircut, wearing a leather jacket. The customer as well thoroughly IDed the car. It was a white ’64 or ’65 Ford Fairlane, with square tail lights, and chrome was missing on the passenger side of the car.

Approximately three hours after Stan’s murder, two detectives of the knoxville Police Department spotted the car and gave chase up to 70 miles per hour. In the car, they found Stan’s wallet and the service station receipts for the day’s business.

The robbery netted the lowlife reject $106.

In the motel room the detective found Houston’s leather jacket and recently washed clothing. The woman with Houston testified that the clothes were washed because of blood stains…

While awaiting his trial for murder/robbery of Uncle Stanley, Houston was indicted for  second degree murder charges in his possible involvement of 30 year-old Patricia Northern Evans’ homicide the year before. The authorities suspected his involvement in three other execution-style murders in the area…probably ‘drug related’! The gun found in the execution murders crime scene was identified by forensics as the same gun used in the Evans homicide. (NOTE: indicted along with Richard Houston was Edward Addison Goins, and I’ve found no further information in my limited means of searching about these homicides and/or court proceedings.

(Am I hiding not too well the anger and rage that still comes to me when I talk or write about this crime? I remember so well as a little boy those lovely family weekends where love showed up, when Uncle Stanley played catch with me on the lawn of the old railroad section house. Of all my dear Mother’s brothers and sisters, all with a sense of purpose in their lives, all of whom I loved, Uncle Stanley was my favorite. Those were the precious ‘memory keepers’ of my youth, some of the inestimable pieces of myself I find worth keeping.

No, I cannot with certainty wrap my mind around this killing of someone I loved. I can believe my Uncle tried to take the gun away from his killer…as Houston stated at a later court appearance. I can believe Stan tried to fight off this animal from hell. I can also come to tears believing, as my Uncle lay dying on the rest room floor, that mind flashes of his all too brief life came rushing to him: Johnnie’s love, Susan’t graduation from high school and college he would never see, the cherished love he carried for his family… He was a most humble and beautiful person in life, and I can believe Uncle Stanley is with God in that perfect dimension. I can hope, pray, and believe that we will meet again when it is ordained to happen.) 

Houston was originally sentenced to ‘Death’ for the Murder of my Uncle Stanley and also received a ‘Life Sentence’ for Armed Robbery.

After spending seventeen years on death row, in 1994 a judge threw out the Murder Conviction and the Armed Robbery conviction.

A prosecuting attorney quickly appealed that decision the next day.

In 1995, the Appellate Judge reinstated the ‘Life for Armed Robbery’ conviction while the prosecuters continued working for a possible retrial on the murder conviction and the reinstatement of the death penalty for Stanley’s murder.

In a 2009 ‘Plea Deal’, Richard Houston confessed to the murder of Stanley Balsinger and the ‘Death Sentence’ was dropped, the murder sentence reduced to ‘Life WITH the possibility of parole’.

Through the years, all the ‘appeals’, and ‘monkey-wonkey’ machinations of the judicial system,  ‘Life’ WITH the possibility of parole was renderd for my Uncle Stanley. Having served thirty years, many of which were spent on death row, Richard Houston was already eligible for parole.

The ‘Piece of S___’ is likely out there among us.

Perhaps I should be sorry showing my anger and hatred in this blog missile and in the fictional mysteries I write, most of which are inspired by true events.

I am not sorry! If some praise and profit come from my humble writing efforts, so be it! So be it if that doesn’t happen! It is my way to give something of myself to those who are taken from us by the evil in our world

Billy Ray Chitwood – February 20, 2018   

 Please Preview My Books of Mystery & Suspense & Romance at:

http://billyraychitwood.com

 Please Follow My Blog at:

http://brchitwood.com 

 Please follow me on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/brchitwood 

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Flowers and Fate

Flowers and Fate

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Flowers and Fate

(Flash Fiction Inspired by Truth)

“Red or yellow roses, Sir?” the older lady in the flower shop asked.

The young man in his early thirties smiled and raised his brow. “Now, how did you know it was to be roses, Millie?” He knew her from a name tag.

“It’s the body language, young man. Your step, your face, the happy gleam in your eyes.”

“Really! I’m that obvious?”

“You’re that obvious,” she teasingly grinned, “plus I’ve had this shop too many years not to know when love walks through the door.”

He put his hands on the counter and gently asked, “And, do you know how many roses I’ll be sending FTD today?”

“You’re a two-dozen fellow, I’m betting.” She pursed her lips.

“And, does my step, my face, and the happy gleam in my eyes tell you which color I’ll pick?”

“Red, of course! You’re obviously in love and you want the red roses to convey your love for the young lady.” She tilted her head slightly in a positive gesture.

“Why would I not choose yellow roses?” the man asked, amused by the conversation.

“Yellow roses would be fine, but you wish to make a deeper statement. Red gets the point of love across rather profoundly. They say, ‘I love you’. Yellow roses convey happiness and joy in more of a friendship fashion… My goodness, listen to me, giving you information you likely already know.”

“No, you’ve actually tagged me perfectly, and I thank you. It will be two dozen red roses, and I trust you will pick out twenty-four of your very best.”

“It will be my pleasure, plus an extra red rose to accentuate the strong statement. I shall make it a very special arrangement for you. You will wish a card sent with the roses…”

His name was Farris Stanley Ballanger. The flowers were going to Johnnie Ballanger, his wife. On a short business trip to help out one of his service station managers, he would be home tomorrow and wanted Johnnie to receive the flowers before his arrival.

Stan spent some time in thought at the counter as to the words he would put on the card. Smiling, finally satisfied with his choice of words, he placed the card in the accompanying envelope, wrote ‘Dear Sweet Johnnie’ on the front, and handed it to Millie.

Stan paid for the flowers and chatted a few moments more with Millie.

As Stan was about to leave the store, he asked: “Do you mind if I hug you, Millie? You are such a great person.”

Millie obliged, and Stan left the store.

Later around midnight as Stan closed and locked his service station, he was robbed at gunpoint, prodded to the ‘Men’s Room’ and shot to death at close range. His body was not found until daybreak when the service station attendants arrived for work.

Stan’s roses arrived the next morning before news of the robbery and homicide reached Johnnie. Her heart filled with love overflowing as she read what Stan had written on the card:

Love and Time Eternal

It matters not the hours, the days, the years, the lifetime we spend together!

What matters is all the love we have gathered in our hearts

That will last eternally…

Forever, Stanley

– Flash fiction by Billy Ray Chitwood – February 14, 2018 (REVISIT) –

In Memory of my Uncle Stanley Balsinger who lives forever in my heart! (Brutally Murdered as he closed his place of business many years ago!) – We played ‘catch’ on the lawn back in the day!)

Please preview my books of Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Romance at:

http://billyraychitwood.com

Please follow my blog at:

http://brchitwood.com

Please follow me on https://twitter.com/brchitwood

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Autumn and The Muse

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Autumn And The Muse

 

It was all so different these many years later…

 

The clapboard houses were all gone, replaced by small brick and hardwood homes with indoor plumbing. The dirt and gravel lanes were now paved although still isolated and rural. The old white church with its high steeple, now freshly painted, was the marker that let me know I was really home again.

 

It was like time had abbreviated everything I looked upon. The distance from church to Mama’s and Papa’s old house was hardly a quarter mile. The lanes that branched off the short stretch of road to the old sawmill and the railroad tracks were now unrecognizable, overgrown with brush, trees, and weeds… I could not even determine where the old sawmill and train tracks had been. Where so many years ago there had been Papa’s rows of corn, potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, and scallions was now tall green grass for a few grazing cows.

 

I smiled and pointed out to my wife Julie and son Scott where the old out-house had once stood, where Papa had once castrated the squealing hogs. I pointed out where old ‘Fred’ the mule used to lead the plow through the fields with a few ‘gees and haws’ from Papa. The little hamlet of Wooldridge was now all condensed for my memory but the thoughts, good and bad, raced through my aging brain…

 

It was here where some of the first memories were built of my displaced youth, where fear of the unknown and new experiences collided to make me a docile and disturbed little boy. It was here where my microcosmic world was filled with dreams and dark ugly shadows. Here was the nexus that was the foundation for all that I would become – the nomadic drifter in search of illusive dreams, the uncertain master of a fate always to be determined.

 

The tears were not seen through the smiles as I passed on to my son and wife the wisps of yesterday, but they were there…tears for Mama and Papa, their hard lives, yet their devotion to me…tears for the parents who fought, who loved and tried, but were unable to make things right for their family…tears for a life that could have been better in some ways but did, through all the wanderlust, bring me to wife Julie who personifies family, love and patience…tears for my beautiful children of whom I am so proud and love so deeply.

 

This day trip from my middle Tennessee home to the east Tennessee hamlet of my youth inspires this post. While there has to be some sadness – that’s the way I’m put together – it is likely one of the best days to go into my still active memory pages. The day serves to point out for me that, indeed, ‘everyone has to be from somewhere.’

Billy Ray Chitwood – February, 2018 (REV)

 

Please Preview my Books, read Amazon Book Reviews of some of my books, and a short page about me, on my Website:

 

http://billyraychitwood.com

 

Please follow my posts on my Blogsite:

 

http://brchitwood.com

 

Please Follow me on twitter:

 

http://twitter.com/brchitwood

 

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The End

The End

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The End

I was a beaten man!

There was nothing left! No wife! No children! No job!

The only clothes I owned covered my body.

The black ashes that were once my house had an acrid, gagging odor, mixed with the smells of fire-fighting liquids, dampness, and death.

How does one describe a body bereft of feelings, a body with all its tears shed, a hollow core of nothingness covered with flesh? Nothing there! Nothing I could or would ever be able to find.

That was my truth!

Standing there in a starless night of misty rain and appropriate bleakness, looking for the last time at the sum of my existence, there in those black, damp clumps of earth and bones, there with the only pieces of love I had ever known, there in that eerie graveyard of ashes.

We had a silly argument after the boys were put to bed. I made a petulant escape into the night of bar rooms and feigned grievance … my starring role in a ‘D-Movie’.

I heard the sounds of fire engines through my whiskey haze and gave it little thought.

Fire engines rushed to others’ houses, not mine.

Finally, the Bacchus glow came, went, and I recognized the inanity of my actions.

That rapidly fading glow took me home where I would do my habitual ‘I’m sorry, sweetheart’! Repentence was an eager surge within me as I sped onward for home. It was then, the car finishing its sharp turn, when I saw the halo of red and white flashing lights ahead. My body began to quake as the first pang of alarm came to rest inside my imbued brain.

It was my home from which those wind-driven flames came … soon to be, at my arrival, the charred ruins of my only prized possessions.

I stumbled from the car, stunned, inconsolable, watching my neighbors holding hands, praying, tears flowing down their cheeks, already knowing what I was about to find out.

My wife, my kids, were consumed by the fire … a fire caused by my forgetting to turn off the barbeque.

I fell to my knees, grasped my head with both hands, heaving, roaring my grief in loud sobs, piercing the smoke-filled skies above. The concept of Time had no reality for me as I gasped and breathed in particles of ash.

People talked to me, uttered their pity and sorrow, tried humbly to comfort me. Their voices were lost in my sobbing growls. The movement of fire engines, firemen, my neighbors going back to their homes were on the periphery of my awareness. I shook my head in negation to acts of kindness, of pleas to help me. 

Then, I was alone with my mind and its torturous playback of my fatuous acts in life, alone with the agony which now possessed my soul.

For three days and nights, I stayed awake, unseen, not wanting to be seen, in the wooded area behind the damp ashes where once stood my home. I was soon bereft of any meaningful thought, on the brink of madness.

At 11:00 PM that third night I heard off in the distance the freight train whistle.

I walked the quarter mile to the trestle and watched for the light that would announce its coming. I listened for the roar from the rails.

Like a thief in the night I left the bush behind which I hid and stepped onto the trestle. The train’s beacon of light came onward toward me, and the faint whistle registered somewhere in a tunnel of my mind. 

The train was but a hundred yards away when I raised my arms to the heavens and cried, “Oh, God, please forgive me!”

Flash Fiction by Billy Ray Chitwood – January 7, 2918 (Rev)

Please preview my books, about me, & some of my book reviews at:

http://billyraychitwood.com 

My Blog:

http://brchitwood.com

Please follow me on Twitter:

http://twitter.com/brchitwood

  

  

 

Meet Lady Gray

Meet Lady Gray

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Meet ‘Lady Gray’

          Our beloved Bengal cat, George, left us for animal heaven some months back after a twelve-year love affair. It was a sad and traumatic moment for Julie Anne and me.

George is buried under some sugar-maple trees on our property, and, each morning, we look out the kitchen window at his burial spot and say, “Hello, George, we love you.”

          As though George’s spirit reminds us of our time together in some peculiar ways, he finally put an exclamation point on it all…

          Before George passed away, a small gray and white kitten came several times to our house, sat at the edge of the pool, and stared at George through the windows of the Sunroom. It seemed obvious to Julie and me that the two transferred some mutual affection. George was a declawed, neutered house cat and could not go outside so the two enjoyed and passed their furry feelings via empty space.

          After George died, the gray and white kitten came on a regular basis to our kitchen door. Julie gave her some turkey bits, steak leftovers, and, finally included on her shopping list some cat food and treats. Julie left each food serving just outside the door. Often, we looked out the window and found the cat lounging on one of our outdoor wicker rockers, all curled up and napping.

          At some point, with soft coaxing, the kitten timidly entered the house, but left after a brief stay. Julie and I had different views on the kitten. Julie was sure the kitten had a home nearby, and we could not just arbitrarily adopt the cat…plus, Julie was still at an emotional level over George and did not think she wanted another animal pet. I took an opposite view: I didn’t think the kitten had a nearby home and genuinely felt she wanted our home as her home. Of course, we both were likely right. Maybe she had a home but was cast aside. And, there were other stray cats around. On some occasions while eating Julie Anne’s  food treasures, the gray and white would chase away cat intruders as if to say: ‘This is my food, my home, so, buzz off’! When she had her fill of orts, the gray and white then allowed the other stray cat(s) to dine.

          As days and weeks passed, the kitten continued her visits, and, with each visit, lingered around our property, came into the house on occasion and stayed a bit longer each time before Julie put her outside. Julie was also worried about the kitten having fleas or other ailments, likely having been abandoned either by her previous owners or simply had survived in the wild.

          The young cat was accompanied on occasion by a larger black and white male cat. It was apparent that the gray and white female held dominance over the bigger male, not sharing her food with him, and giving us reason to believe the female was in season.

          Julie and I had e-mailed and called neighbors to find out if they knew to whom the kitten belonged. We got no helpful information. In the meantime, there was concern that we were feeding ‘gray and white’ too much food because the cat was developing quite a girth…and, sure, we considered the fact she could be in a gestation period.

          Finally, there came the day when ‘gray and white’ entered the house and did not want to leave. It was during this time that Julie and I came together in our decision to keep the lovely feline. Her personality was so lovingly tender and timid. We would open the door for her to leave, and she would back away. In short, we fell in love with the little critter, bloated tummy and all. We felt the big tummy could be from all the food Julie was feeding her.

          We picked her up three days later from the Vet Hospital, where she was spayed, de-wormed, and inoculated to boost immunities. The Vet tells us ‘Lady Gray’ is likely one-year old or thereabouts.

          Julie and I are excited about having this little beauty in our lives…

          We consider ‘Lady Gray’ a gift from George and God.

Billy Ray Chitwood – March 30, 2017

Please visit my Website, preview my 14 books, read some book reviews and author comments.

http://billyraychitwood.com

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RRBC Spotlight Author: Michael Lynes

RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB’S

Spotlight Author: Michael Lynes

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So…I hate computers and computers hate me.

I suppose it’s only fair. After all, I have misspent the last three decades of my youth assembling, tinkering, compiling and probing their convoluted silicon innards, and what creation does not harbor hatred for its creator?

My reciprocal loathing is similarly well founded, as the tangible rewards of a career in embedded software engineering are few and fleeting. For instance I’ve long ago given up any hope of explaining what it is that I do to any other normal human being on the planet. Save for the one-tenth of one percent who are either fellow engineers or children, and believe me most days it’s hard to tell them apart, no one has the slightest clue.

I’ll give you an example. When asked, for instance at a casual barbeque party, my best off-the-cuff answer is, “I type for a living.” This earns me a sharp elbow in the ribs if my wife is at hand. I have also responded, “I poke turtles with sticks until they turn into racecars.” said with complete sincerity and a deadpan expression. That gets me an elbow and a dirty look.

Now, if my interrogator just happens to be an engineer, one who has presented me the correct counter-sign identifying themselves as a fellow mage, I can wax poetic about memory leaks and clock duty cycles, pesky stack overflows and the joys of eliminating a sneaky uninitialized variable. But…I digress.

We were talking about hate, and I want to stay on point.

Computers hate me and the feeling is mutual. They are malodorous, vindictive, ungrateful little bastards, who will monopolize your time, waste all your money and leave you nothing to show for it except a sink full of dirty dishes, an empty snack cupboard and piles of smelly laundry.

Hold on a second. That would be teenagers. But, you get my point.

Computers are spoiled and willful. They are also devious and occasionally indispensable, but for the most part hardly worth their keep. The shades of both Babbage and Turing may oscillate wildly about their respective rest states, but I will stand firm by my conviction. In short – computers just suck – full stop.

“But,” you protest, “Computers are our helpers! Indispensable guides, sources of endless amusement and founts of precious wisdom! How did we live before we had them?

“They are our lifeline, pictures, voices and personas. Without computers, we would be lost, less than human!”

“Baloney!”, or some such, I reply with desperate conviction. “Computers are nothing but parasites on the body politic! They go on and on about how they need a bigger hard-drive or bazillion pixel display screen or the latest Windows Eleventy-seven operating system!”

Wild-eyed and spittle flecked I conclude. “Join me! It is not too late! Together, we can expunge this curse from our society!”

My strident call to arms fades to a whisper. It falls unheard, upon bud-plugged ears and mega-pixel-glazed eyes. It is too late.

We have met the enemy, and Pogo my friend you were right. They are us.

*

Just so this post will not be a complete waste of time – below are some time-honored computer care and feeding tips that you are free to use without attribution…your results may vary. Have fun stormin’ da castle…!

COMPUTER TIPS: (for experienced users and/or dummies)

  • Never address computers politely. (They love abuse)
  • Never feed them after midnight. (No one likes FAT16, FAT32 or any sort of FAT)
  • Always rub your lucky mouse pad when you really, really need your install, upgrade or Microsoft update not to fail. Rub harder when this does not help.
  • To encourage good behavior from your computer, lay a loaded carafe of salt water, a ball-peen hammer and a wickedly sharp pair of wire-cutters down in view of it’s built-in-camera prior to starting any important project with a deadline. After all, everybody should have some skin in the game.

When any, or all, of the above paths to enlightenment fail, my advice is find a kid, basically anyone over the age of eight, and throw yourself on their tender mercies. You will learn humility and gain great wisdom, and, your computer will respect you in the morning – I promise.

And, Here is the Really Good Stuff:

♥THIS BLOG AUTHOR’S NOTE: (Mr. Lynes would not say this, but I do) – Really,  how could someone not like this guy? He’s a great author (5-Star Reviews up the ‘Kazoo’) and he’s got a great sense of humor – I’m just saying! Look below at his bio… I’m one of those computer ‘dummies’ to whom he jokingly refers – I’m in ‘Twilight’ now and my laptop drives me crazy (that’s every single day!)… I love this guy. ♥ 

Author Bio:

Mr Lynes is a serial entrepreneur who enjoys dry red wine and single malt scotch. When not occupied with arcane engineering projects he spends his time playing with his two grandchildren, baking bread, feeding seasoned hardwood into his ancient Timberline woodstove, working on his various cars, bird watching and taking amateur photographs. His current menagerie includes one short-haired turtle shell cat and a pair of actual turtles.

His last book, There Is A Reaper: Losing a Child to Cancer, was an Indie B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion Honoree in January 2017, a silver-medal winner of the 2016 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards for Memoir, a medalist in the 2015 New Apple Book Awards for Memoir, a winner of the 2015 TISBA (The Indie Spiritual Bookk Awards), and a finalist in both the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year award and the Beverly Hills Book Awards for 2015.

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THERE IS A REAPER – https://www.amazon.com/There-Reaper-Losing-Child-Cancer-ebook/dp/B00XNZW6C4

Mr Lynes was awarded a BSEE degree in Electrical Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology and currently works as an embedded software engineer. He has a consuming interest in the science of emotion as promulgated by Dr. Paul Ekman and has made a comprehensive study of his Face and Emotion courses.

Mr Lynes has four sons, has been married for over thirty years and currently lives with his wife and youngest son in the beautiful secluded hills of Sussex County, NJ.

 

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Michael’s Books

THE FAT MAN GETS OUT OF BED:  https://www.amazon.com/Fat-Man-Gets-Out-Bed/dp/1938812905

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AND:

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THERE IS A REAPER – https://www.amazon.com/There-Reaper-Losing-Child-Cancer-ebook/dp/B00XNZW6C4

Follow Michael Lynes online:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/woodheat

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/MLynesAuthor/

Website – https://mikelynes.wixsite.com/mlynesauthor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Requiem to a Boarding House Cook

Maude Inez Balsinger
– My Mom –

Requiem To A Boarding House Cook

 

Don’t guess too many boarding houses even exist anymore, but let me tell you: the best food I’ve ever eaten was in a boarding house setting.

The cook? My dear, beloved, departed mother. In one of my books, I mention that she is up there with angel ‘Clarence’ ringing a bell when some earthly creature does something good — you will all remember ‘Clarence:’ he visits us each year at Christmas time in a re-run of the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

It might seem strange to sing the praises of a boarding house cook in a post, but the mind can carry you to some memory stations that leave a faint, sometime tearful, wisp of nostalgia.

The sleeping room in Mrs. Lester’s Boarding House my Mom and I shared was just across from the big kitchen, and, as a small eight-year old kid, I sat in one of the two rocking chairs in that room listening on the radio to a broadcast of a baseball game or football game, and the smells from that kitchen at dinner time would get me really hungry.

Just before Mom served the boarders at the long large dining table in front of the house, she would bring a heaping plate of food to me in that bedroom across the hall. Didn’t matter what it was, meatloaf, pot roast, pork chops, corn bread, biscuits, mashed potatoes with gravy or home fries, it was always the most enjoyable food I would ever remember eating. And Mom would always smile, give me a kiss on the cheek, and say something like: “You’re the best little boy in the world…”

My Mom was a boarding house cook during some of the most troubled times in our economic history…during the great depression era in Appalachia. East Tennessee would be more precise. Knoxville, Tennessee would be most precise. Mom and Dad were divorced, and my sister was living fifty miles away with my maternal grandparents because of the bad times. Mom worked long hours seven days a week and she always made the time for me, made the time to make me feel like all was really right with the world. Even in my little pea-brain I knew all was not right in our world, that there were things happening in our lives that were beyond my scope of understanding. But Mom tried and she did make me feel loved and very much wanted in her life.

So, when that big plate of food was all consumed and wiped clean with the last bit of biscuit or cornbread, the ballgame ended, I would become wistful about my Mom’s boarding house existence, feeling that she really did not have much of a life. I would sit in that room, stuffed with good southern cooking, Mom doing dinner clean-up duties, and I would try to write a poem…try to write a poem that would convey the love I felt for my Mom, try to say in words on paper what my tiny voice could not say.

My Mom always encouraged me to follow my heart, to sing my songs, to write my verses, and it was there in those days during World War Two when I first took pencil to paper. Yes, the words were the mutterings of a young unsettled mind, but they meant something to me then.

Today, perhaps my mind is still unsettled, still searching for some ultimate truths, and that is okay. The words still mean something to me. Whatever my writing comes to be, somewhere in those sentences and paragraphs, in those characters and plots, there will be parts of me, and, actually, they are pretty easy to find. I am not a very large mystery in the scheme of things.

My Mom gave me the great gift of writing, the wonderful gift of expressing myself with words. It doesn’t matter so much that the words will or will not ring so many bells down here.

It does matter that Mom and ‘Clarence’ might occasionally ring their bells for me.

Billy Ray Chitwood – 9/25/17 and 8/06/12

 

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“Darkness and Fog” – Short Story/Flash Fiction

August 28, 2016 and September 25, 2017 Revised

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“Darkness and Fog”

 A Short Story/Flash Fiction –

The darkness and fog are palpable like a viscid sweat crawling all over the body, and my eyes cannot be trusted. Keen concentration is not all it’s made out to be. These dumb-ass images keep popping up all over the space in front, sides, and back of me…and, okay, I admit it – I’m a big boy scared. ‘There’s no moon in the sky – stormy weather’ (ring a bell?). I mean, there is no way this world can be this dark and foggy.

“Why,” Someone might ask, “are you so stupid to be standing where you’re standing?”

The reason is really simple but I’m going to make it as complicated for you as I can.

When I was a little boy, my crippled cousin had to have the light on during his bedtime dark hours. Now, I didn’t tease him about that but if I just mentioned it he chased me up one country road and another. If I didn’t have a pretty good lead he’d catch me. Then, we would end up wrestling until one of us said ‘Uncle’ – usually me! We were best pals and I loved my club-footed cousin-buddy, but he got madder than a frigging copperhead on LSD if anyone brought up sleeping with lights on.

That’s really not part of the complicated story, at least, not in a major way. This darkness and fog just made me think of him. He turned out to be a scratch golfer. He’s gone now, died too early in his life. His damned cheating wife was screwing the next-door neighbor, and my cousin beat the daylights out of the crooked-nose jerk and threw all her clothes – and her – out of the house. He was club footed but he was no yellow-belly. Nobody gave him any crap, that’s for sure. Then, bless him, he got some sort of breathing problem and it killed him.

Well, again, that’s not part of the complicated story either…and it makes me sad thinking about it.

I won’t lead you on any further.

It all starts with my sister, Sarah Lou. She’s fourteen going on twenty-four, if you get my drift, built like a brick s…-house, big boobs, long silky brown hair, great figure, really pretty, and she reckons she’s the ‘cat’s meow’. It seems she knows early on she wants to taste some parts of life she is no way ready to taste.

I’m convinced Sarah Lou is the genuine product of something genetically disfavored, sort of like my Dad. He gets madder than hell and beats up on her…and, Mom. Bless her heart! Well, I’m thinking I have more of my Mom in me. At least, I hope so, because she is all giving and loving. When Mom goes to heaven, ole ‘Clarence’ will be ringing loudly his bells.

Dad has this fiery temper, and it’s his way or the highway, so to speak. This is when he’s visiting us. He and Mom are divorced, and Dad seems to have these demons inside him that make for crazy flip-outs at any moment. I’ve noticed his behavior changes when Mom mentions her side of the family – they don’t like him and he doesn’t like them. Of course, the corn whiskey could have something to do with it. He likes his hooch! He’s also tall, good-looking, and has a thing for the ladies. How can I know that? Well, that’s a whole different story.

Well, anyhow, the genes running through Sarah Lou must be identical to Dad’s.

Moving the story along, Sarah Lou turns sixteen and elopes with an army corporal, runs off to another state when the corporal gets transferred. Mom is heart-sick and scared because she has to tell Dad the news.

Mom and I, my now older club-footed cousin and his big sister (on my Dad’s side of the family) go to the hotel where my Dad is now living to tell him about Sarah Lou’s elopement. Cuz and his sister come along to hopefully soften my Dad’s temper.

In his hotel room, my cousin and his sister take the two chairs in the room. Mom sits on the bed all timid and nervous… I can see her trying to swallow her fear, but it’s etched there on her face. I sit, timid and nervous myself under a window on a radiator…you know, those ugly, vertical heavy metal rods all linked in a row as one unit. Now, the heat isn’t on during this visit, but those units are a might uncomfortable to sit on. I just keep alternating my butt cheeks and somehow manage.

My Dad is just walking around the room. Now, Dad knows right away that something is up, and, he knows it isn’t good news – guess our faces and body language give us away. So, he’s nervous, too, but not in a sane way…it’s like, he’s the tiger sitting on a boulder about to pounce on an unsuspecting prey.

“Okay,” he says, “what’s the bad news? I can see it on all your faces.” He leans against the wall near me.

My stomach is turning as I’m looking at Mom while she haltingly tells Dad about Sarah Lou and the elopement.

I’m stealing peeks at Dad and can see a storm rising inside of him.

Mom finishes and is near tears, her face red with a thin layer of fret-sweat.

When Dad hears the news about Sarah Lou, he stomps around the room in a fury, shaking his head, temples pounding, mumbling curse words, and, abruptly stops in front of Mom and eyes her menacingly for several seconds. My sweet hard-working, lovely Mom sits there very still with her hands clasped on her lap with a now blanched and pitiful look on her face. My tears are about to come and I can almost feel her anxious and trembling body preparing itself for Dad’s assault.

My tainted-gene Dad gives Mom a hard looping open-hand slap to the face, so damned hard it knocks her over. My immediate fear is that he’s knocked something loose in her brain or upper body…and he’s getting ready to do more hitting.

I’m petrified watching it all from this hotel room radiator and l reckon something snaps inside me. I’ve watched this kind of madness too many times as a younger kid. Now, I’m a lot bigger. I rush him and tackle him onto the bed, crying and mumbling something stupid, like, ‘I’ve seen you do that to my Mom too many times’. I’ll never forget – he’s got this look on his face like a slight smile and surprise all at the same time.

With a blind rage, I start pounding Dad with my fists.  Pretty soon, he’s not moving. I must have connected with a vulnerable spot on his head. He just turns his head over to the side and goes to sleep. I sit there staring down at Dad, becoming a bit worried that I’ve done something bad. Yet, so far as I can see, he’s breathing with a normal rhythm. I gently slap his face a few times, but he doesn’t stir. I inspect his head, notice no swollen places and no blood.

After a couple of minutes pass, I rise from the bed and tell our little group we likely should leave before he comes out of it. He could really go bonkers then. So, we hustle out of Dad’s room and loudly close the door.

Mom cries all the way down the elevator, and we go unnoticed out a side entrance in the lobby. I drive my cousin and his sister home, and, except for the sound of the car engine, no one makes a sound. Only tears flow down our faces. We all hug and kiss each other.

Next, I drive Mom to her folks’ place some forty miles away.

We give Grandma and Grandpa all the news about our visit with Dad, and they’re madder than hornets in a wild wind, ‘Is he dead?’ ‘Is he alive?’ I make Mom promise me that she’ll stay with the grandparents until she hears from me. There’s no way Dad, assuming I didn’t hurt him too badly, would go around Grandpa because the latter gave Dad a whipping some months back.

After a few more tears are shed and the grand-folks can’t talk me out of leaving, I’m on my way back to the hotel to check on Dad… I know! Who should be caring about a guy who is abusive to his wife and daughter? Well, he’s my Dad, for better or worse! Me, I did not suffer so much his physical abuse. There are the lingering emotional scabs that come off as time passes and memories haunt in the dark of night. The real damage, emotionally, psychologically, and life-changing are for my dear Mom and Sister.

My blond head is churning with thoughts as I drive back to the hotel. The closer I get, the more tense I become. There’s this need to know about my Dad, whether he’s okay or hurt badly. I’m a sturdy young man now, 185 pounds, playing quarterback as a freshman at Garden View University. It’s difficult to calculate how hard I hit Dad with my fists – I feel like a part of me was actually holding back. But, then, I was lost in the moment.

There is no way to forget what happened, and just go back to my grandparent’s house. I have to know, one way or the other about my Dad. Did I hurt him more than first I thought? Is he alive? Is he dead?

I park Mom’s car down the street from the hotel and walk to the side entrance of the lobby.

The elevator is on the lobby level as if waiting for me. On Dad’s floor, the elevator doors open and my heart jumps into my mouth!

My Dad is standing in front of me, his eyes blinking like he is trying to clear his head.

“You coming out, young fellow?” Dad asks in an impatient and impersonal tone.

He notices the apparent surprise on my face. “You alright, boy?”

“Dad, it’s me!”

He did a fast look behind him like I was talking to someone else.

Dad blinks some more. “You’re mixed up, boy, I don’t have a son. Now, stay in the elevator or get out. I fell and cracked my head…have to get it taken care of.”

“But, Dad, I hit you on the head because you hurt Mom. Let me help you!”

Dad grabs my arm and pulls me out of the elevator onto the hallway carpeting. “Told you, boy, I’ve got no son.” He enters the elevator, pushes the lobby button and is gone.

I can’t say how long I stand rooted to that spot in front of the elevator. I am aware enough to know that other people enter and exit the elevator while I’m standing there.

Finally, I take the stairs down seven floors and walk out the side lobby entrance. My befuddled mind is on automatic pilot and leads me down the street to the car.

When I pull away from the curb, confused and frightened, I drive aimlessly, turning here, turning there, my mind going over and over the events of the day.

I drive for miles not mindful of where I’m going. Tears flow until my eyes get all watery. Finally, my brain tells me to pull off the road.

I’m out in the ‘boonies’ somewhere. There is an old rutted country road, and I turn onto the dirt and gravel, drive a quarter mile and notice that suddenly I can’t see.

The weather changes suddenly and I take the time to think, ‘What the hell am I doing? Out here in nowhere land?’ The reality of the situation makes me ease to the right off the old road, feeling my way as the darkness and fog come together – seemingly all at once.

I get out of the car, touching the metal, holding on to the only reality given me at the moment.

My Dad’s face is flashing at me in the darkness and fog…along with snakes, dinosaurs, crocodiles, and other beasts of the world.

There come some recalls of life with my Dad in them, not long after the divorce.

Much of those times are rough, but there are tender moments as well – farther back in youth, when he buys me a little boy’s grey suit with a bibbed hat, takes pictures of me with a cigarette dangling from my lips. There are bus, car, and train rides to visit his parents and grandmother…my grandparents and my great grandmother.

His grandmother is almost blind and sits on an old wooden porch in a rocking chair, frail and beautiful like a picture in sepia tone, with a corn cob pipe in the corner of her mouth. She is in her nineties, and Dad has to get within inches of her face before she recognizes him and gets a sweet smile on her face and hugs him. She makes over me as well, and I feel a sense of history – the events, all the things she has seen in her lifetime. Her time is almost up, but she is going to keep rocking and smoking her corn cob pipe for a while yet.

A few happy times flash by, those times when we play at being a family, without the tempestuous flares of raw emotions: the Saturday movie matinees; Mom and Dad smiling happily when my sister and I dance, when I attempt to write a poem; the endless questions I asked of them both – the insatiable curiosity of a little boy’s mind.

I love them both so much, and, now, my father has no son.

The tears do not stop until the mind reminds me of where I am, in the middle of proverbial nowhere with only the scary flashes coming from too much eye concentration and the memories that are both keepers and throwaways.

So, the world can be dark and foggy, and, maybe, reasons for standing in the darkness and fog are not so simple.

With measured steps I walk a few paces, can see no end to the darkness and fog, pivot, return to the car, get in the back seat, and lock the doors.

Assuming a fetus position on the backseat, I try desperately not to think anymore. I can wait out the darkness and the fog.

Tomorrow will come, and the sun will replace the dismal thoughts with hope.

I love my Mom and Dad.

Perhaps I still have both of them.

Billy Ray Chitwood – 9/25/17

*

Hope you enjoyed this short story and/or flash fiction – whichever your preference.

This is the beginning of a book with a working title, “Darkness and Fog.”

Well, fancy that!

Will you read the book when I launch it in late 2017 or early 2018?

I’ve authored fourteen books and invite you to my website to preview them. There are mysteries, suspense, romance, thrillers, memoirs, time travel, and other genres from which to choose. They have new covers and some of the novels are inspired by true events.

Hope you will read some of my offerings and leave reviews on Amazon. As we are wont to say, reviews are the lifeblood of authors:

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