Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zebulon -Day 173 - Historical Fiction

There had been some changes since I had last been there. Walking past our old house, I saw it had been painted, and a low picket fence had been erected around it. Apparently, someone who had a little money lived there now. I saw a little child playing in the yard, pulling his dog around in a little red wagon. I stopped to speak to him. 

Leaning over the fence, I asked if he was having fun. He looked at me, towering over him, and apparently, I looked like a red-headed giant to him, and he started yelling bloody murder.

That brought a young woman to the front yard, wiping her hands on her apron. 

"Henry, what's the matter with you? Don't you know your dad can't deal with all that noise?"

Then she caught sight of me, and asked who I was, and what I was doing there. 

"Ma'am, I used to live here and saw your little boy playing in the yard. I was just being friendly. I'm very sorry to have disturbed you."

"Oh, I see. My husband just got back from serving in Vietnam a few weeks ago, and loud noises really bother him."

She must have decided I was harmless, so she walked out to the fence and spoke further with me. 

"I am so worried about him. He can't find work, and he can't sleep at night. Were you in the service?"

She was looking at the scar that was still red and puckered the skin on my neck. 

My face must have flushed then, because I could feel the heat from my blood. 

"Yes, ma'am, I just got back a few months ago. I'm right sorry about your husband. I'll say a prayer for him tonight."

"You're a Christian, then? Oh, thank you so much." 

"You're welcome, ma'am. Are you a believer?"

"Oh, yes, I don't feel like I could cope, otherwise."

"How about your husband?"

"I'm not sure. I thought so, but he's changed so much from when he went into service. He's angry all the time. I don't know what to do."

Looking at her more closely, I could see bruises near her right eye. I recognized immediately what they were. She had applied makeup to cover them, but they were there for all the world to see. 

Speaking softly, I said, "Ma'am, he beats you, doesn't he?"

I knew I was treading on dangerous ground, but I couldn't refrain from asking. 

"Mind your business, young man!" 

I could see she was embarrassed, but I plunged on. 

"My old man beat up my Ma and us kids most every weekend after spending most of his paycheck at Dooley's Pub. I know what you and your boy are living with. Either get your man help or get yourselves out. I hope you are hearing me, ma'am." 

She looked at me with tears in her eyes, and said, "Thanks, you'd better be on your way."

Putting my New York Yankees cap back on my head, (I had removed it to speak with her), I nodded and waving once more to the kid, I walked on, heading down the street. 

(To be continued) 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Zebulon - Day 172 - Historical Fiction

January 6, 1967 was a clear, cold day and I was on a train headed for my old hometown in the northeast, hoping for a reunion with the man who had influenced my life so greatly. My hopes were high, imagining how he would react when he saw me again. 

When I walked down the steps of the coach, I looked around, expecting everything to look the same as when I left, and was disappointed to see it was not. In fact, the depot seemed smaller than it was then. It also looked dingy and not very well cared for. Little did I realize that the passenger trains were on their way out, and soon would not be running any more. In a few years, Amtrak would be running the passenger trains.

A taxi idled nearby, but I knew I could walk to the police station, and soon was on my way, walking rapidly, eager to reach my destination. My heart was beating with excitement, in anticipation for my meeting. 

I had not called him, instead wanting to surprise Sgt. Finley. He probably wasn't a sergeant any longer, but probably a captain or lieutenant, I imagined. 

When I arrived at the police station, I asked for Sgt. Finley, and they looked at me in surprise. 

"Wow! I haven't heard that name in a few years," said the desk sergeant. "He and his family moved to another state a while back."

"Really? Where did they go? Why did he move? What happened?"

"Whoa! Hold on a minute, young fella. What do you want with him anyway? Who are you?"

Wondering why they were being so evasive, I just looked at them. Did they think I was some kind of person wishing him harm? Why would they think that?

"I'm a friend of his from about eleven years ago. He led me to Jesus, and changed my life. He also kept me from getting involved in criminal stuff."

"Yeah, that sounds like him. He was always a regular do-gooder. That's what got him shot up bad a few years ago."

"What? Where is he? Where did he move?"

"Oh, I think maybe somewhere down south. I have the address back here in the desk, I think. We threw him a going away party. Boy! That was some whing-ding." 

He went back to another desk, and rummaged around in the drawer until he came back with a scrap of paper. 

"Here it is." He wrote it down on another piece of paper and handed the address to me. I was determined to locate him. 

Thanking them, I left the station and headed back to the old neighborhood to look around while I was there. 

(To be continued) 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Zebulon - Day 171 - Historical Fiction

While in basic training, it soon became evident to my fellow trainees that I was a Christian, because of my demeanor and the fact that I never turned in at night without reading my little testament that Sgt. Finley had given me so long ago. It was really getting dog-eared, but was very dear to me. 

Also, I never failed calling them down for mistreating others. It earned me the nickname, "Rev.", for  Reverend, I figured. I didn't mind; better that than some of the nicknames others were tagged with. 

I had just finished basic training when shock waves traveled throughout the world. President John Kennedy was assassinated, and America reeled from the loss. 

When I received my assignment, I found myself in the intelligence division. Apparently, when I took my entrance exams, they were impressed by the way I answered the questions. Thus, I was thrust into the very thick of the action, gathering intelligence for the fighting that went on. I saw things that I cannot recount; that sometimes yet plague my memory. 

For several years following my four years of service, I had nightmares, yet my dependence on Jesus brought me through. 

When I left the service, I went back home for a short time, and was happy to see my Ma and Jake. They seemed much older, and though I was happy to see them, I was restless.Our little Marie was a beauty, and still shy around people. She had a young fellow courting her, but it didn't look really serious on her part. 

Les was now a strapping young fellow, just a year older than I was when I had left. He was planning on going to the University of Kentucky to study architecture, he said. 

I asked Ma about Rosie and she just shook her head, tears springing to her eyes. I didn't press her, but it made me sad, seeing her so upset. I would find out another way.

When I asked Les about Rosie, he told me that she had run off with somebody and they hadn't heard from her lately. 

Well, that was a shocker to me. I determined to find out where she was. 

My feet were restless, I couldn't seem to settle down there on the farm, so I bade them all good-bye and headed up north to look up Sgt. Finley. 

(To be continued)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Zebulon - Day 170 - Historical Fiction

After lunch, Marie approached our Grandda. 

"There's lots a presents under the tree. Are we maybe gonna open them?"

"Well, we sure are gonna, little missy! Let's jist git in there and open 'em up, okay?" 

Taking her by the hand, the old man and the little girl headed into the living room and the Christmas tree. Looking back on it today, I realize that we were just what each other needed in that time of our lives, and am thankful for it. I don't remember the gifts we opened, only the love and excitement that filled the hearts at that time in our lives. 

We stayed on, living on that farm, going to school in a neighboring town. We rode the county school bus, made friends, and had a normal childhood. Eventually our Ma remarried, but that is a story for another time. 

I skipped a grade in school, and was finished at the normal age of eighteen. I decided to leave the farm and look for work that paid more than I could earn around there, so I headed back up north to look up Sgt. Finley. Maybe I could get onto the police force. I had high hopes. The year was 1963, and our President was John F. Kennedy. Just about the time I was ready to leave, I got a letter from Uncle Sam that said, "Greetings..."

By that time, I was near six feet tall, had unruly red hair, and didn't have any real girl friends to speak of.  Unfortunately, I got kind of tongue- tied around the girls. Once I hit the growth spurts, my feet were always getting tangled, and I felt awkward around the opposite sex.

My Ma noticed, naturally, and told me it would get better. I had my doubts, but smiled at Ma, and nodded my head. Jake, my stepfather, was very kind, and I really liked him. I really was kind of sad to leave, because I had had a good life on the farm, but I had dreams of making the world a better place by becoming a policeman and hunting down the criminals, like those who had killed my Da so many years past.

Les was fifteen by the time I left the farm and Marie was thirteen and becoming a beauty. Rosie...well, I'll save that story for another time.

You're wondering about Arlissa, aren't you? Her story will have to be told at another time, as well. 

As for Grandda, he had a massive heart attack about five years after Grandma died, and he was buried beside his beloved life partner. 

Well, when I got that letter from the local draft board, I could have asked for a deferment and probably have gotten it, but I decided to go ahead and so, I became a soldier in the United States Army. 

(To be continued) 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Zebulon - Day 169 - Historical Fiction

Upon completion of the chapter fourteen of the book of John, the preacher closed his Bible, and continued. He didn't speak for very long, so I remember the gist of what he said that day. If I miss a few of his words, I'm sure you'll understand. 

"Martha Jane Smith O'Halloran entered this world on January 7, 1884, and passed from this life into the next one on December 24, 1956. She wrote her own sermon as she lived her life, just as each of us do. Martha was the mother of seven children, five of whom survived childbirth. She was the grandmother of twelve children. (I looked around to see if any of them had by chance come to the funeral, but could see no indicator that they had.) Martha was the beloved wife of Shane Robert O'Halloran, and will be sorely missed by him. She has gone on to her reward, whatever it is. Shane shared with me that he has hopes that she finally accepted Christ as she lay dying, but is not sure. We can only hope. How about each of you? Are you prepared to draw a final breath? If not, there is no better time than now, because sooner or later, your time will come."

He asked if anyone else would like to speak, and when no one did, he led us all in a song, "It is Well With My Soul." Then he sat down and the funeral director came up and closed the casket, fastening it down with the clamps or screws, and they prepared to carry the body out of the church. We all got up and followed, out into the graveyard that was at the side of the church. 

This was the first time we had ever been present when anyone was buried, and it was a new and scary experience for us, especially little Marie. She was holding my hand tightly, and I could feel her shaking. 

Looking up at me, she whispered, "Are they putting Grandma in the dark hole?"

"Yes, but she is not in her body. She is not feeling anything."

"I don't understand, Zebbie. Where is she?"

"She is gone. She is not living anymore. We'll talk about it later, okay? I'll try to explain it all to you then. Now, no more talking right now. We have to be quiet."

I looked over at Rosie, standing with her new friend, Arlissa. Arlissa had a strange look on her face. Was that a tear sliding down her face? Why? 

Looking then at Grandda, standing so alone, I felt such great empathy for him, wondering what he was going to do now with her gone. He loved her, in spite of what she had done. I know he felt a great responsibility, too, for her behavior. He would have time to contemplate his part in the way he had contributed to her mistreatment of her family. 

I tuned back in then to what was going on. The pastor was speaking the words that one hears so often at funerals, about ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. Then we sang "Just As I Am" and turned to go. The preacher shook Grandda's hand and told him to call if he needed him, then turning to each of us, he said goodbye and left.

The assembly of people just kind of broke apart and we went our separate ways in small groups. I could see that Arlissa was going to come back with us. 

I walked over to her and asked did she have any brothers or sisters, and she said, "No, I'm the only one. My ma died when I was born."

That explained the fact that she lived with her Grandma. But I wondered about her father. Where was he? Trying to be polite, I didn't ask the question, but boy, I really wanted to. She just smiled at me and turned back to Rosie.

We went back to the house, and got ready for lunch. 

(To be continued)  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Zebulon - Day 168 - Historical Fiction

"Time to get up, Marie! There is a lot going on today, and you need to get moving..."

"Okay, Zebbie.. Do we get to open our presents today?"

"Yes, Marie, we can do that sometime this afternoon, I'm sure. Get up now, and go use the bathroom and don't forget to wash your hands."

She dutifully got up and ran to the bathroom. She was in a little pink nightgown. It kind of clashed with her red hair, but she still looked a little doll. She was our little princess, and babied by all of us.

Breakfast was a noisy affair, and it was a lot of fun, listening to everyone talking all at once. Soon, though, it was over, and neighbors went home to get ready for the funeral which was slated for around 11:00 a.m. at the little church down the road from us. 

We got ready as well. The Hintons left, and as Arlissa and Rosie hugged each other, I noticed they both had the same shade of red hair. Another coincidence. 

At 9:30, the hearse from the funeral home came to get Grandma's remains, and take them to the church for final viewing and the funeral services. I didn't look forward to that. 

It was cold as we assembled to walk to the church. We walked in silence, each lost in our own thoughts, while we battled the wind blowing us along. I hoped the church would be warm when we got there. Rosie and I walked alongside Ma, and Les and Marie walked with Grandda, one on each side of him, holding his hands. 

Marie had one hand in her pocket, no doubt it was curled around her little mouse carving.

When we got to the church, it was warm. The pastor's wife had apparently built a fire in the big heater that stood in one corner. We walked up the aisle to where the casket stood on a bier, and stood near it, like the funeral director, who was there in the church, directed us to do. 

It wasn't long before the church began to fill up. People came by and shook our hands, just as though they hadn't seen us since she passed away. Then after everyone was seated, the preacher got up, and stood behind the pulpit. 

Standing before us, he took out his Bible, opened it to the book of John, and read words that have since become as familiar to me as my name.

John 14: "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me...."

(To be continued)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Zebulon - day 167- Historical Fiction

Next morning, December 27, 1958, dawned clear, but cold and windy. I crawled from my toasty warm bed and ran to the bathroom. Someone was in there, so I stood outside the door, hopping from one foot to the other on the floor. The house was uncharacteristically warm, I thought. Then I remembered there were several people there keeping my Grandda company in his vigil. 

Soon the door opened, and Ma came out. Upon seeing me, she hugged me and wanted to know how I was doing. 

"Fine, Ma. I just gotta use the bathroom." 

While she was hugging me, Les slipped by us and sneaked into the bathroom, shutting the door, and I could hear his giggle. 

"Ma! Look what just happened!"

"Oh, Zebbie, I'm sorry."

But her smile gave her away, and I knew she found it to be funny, too.  

"Oh, well," I told myself, " it's not funny to someone who needs to be in there." I smiled anyway, because it was a normal shenanigan for Les. That was part of what made him Les. 

He soon came out and said, "It's all yours, big brother," and giggled again.

In a couple of minutes I was out and after I got dressed, I was surprised when I went into the kitchen to see Rosie standing at the kitchen counter with her new friend, Arlissa, breaking eggs into a bowl, and just chattering away like old friends. 

Mrs. Hinton, Arlissa's Grandma, was standing at the stove frying bacon, and Ma had her hands in flour, rolling out dough for hot biscuits. My mouth watered as I smelled the aromas of breakfast in the making. 

"Ma, can I have a cup of coffee, to tide me over til breakfast is ready?"

"I guess so, but nothing else."

Grabbing the pot of coffee, I gingerly poured a cup half full of coffee and sat down at the table to watch as breakfast was prepared. 

In a few minutes, the biscuits were in the oven, and Ma ran me out of there to wake up Marie and to let those who were there overnight know that the meal would soon be ready. 

When I went into the living room, I saw the Sheriff and nodded politely to him. I figured it was a good idea to stay in his good graces. A few of the other neighbors had stayed over, all men of around Grandda's age. 

I let them all know about breakfast and went in to wake up six-year-old Marie. She was snuggled down in bed, holding her hand curled around something. I thought for a minute, wondering what it was. Then, I realized it must be the mouse Grandda had carved. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Zebulon - Day 166 - Historical Fiction

"He spent it all on drinkin', Grandda," piped up Les. "He went to the pubs on the weekend as soon as he got his paycheck, and then came home and beat us, and sometimes he beat up Ma, too." 

Marie simply nodded her head.

Grandda looked at me with a questioning look on his face, as if he thought I would deny what they were saying, but I could not. 

He bowed his head in abject sorrow, muttering something under his breath. Then he sent us in and did not return to the house for some time. I think his heart was breaking even more. I knew there was little I could do about it at the time. Somehow, I realized he felt the responsibility for my Da's behavior. What a terrible truth to lay on him just now at the time he was grieving the loss of my Grandma.

We went into the house quietly, only to be greeted by the sound of laughter. It seemed some of the men standing around in the kitchen were telling some funny anecdotes of when my grandparents were younger. 

"You should have seen her chasing that old bull out in the road, trying to get him into the field! It was clear she didn't know what she was doing. Pretty soon, it had turned around and was chasing her. I never laughed so much in my life!"

"What finally happened?"

"Oh, I took pity on her and helped her get him cornered and through the gate. Shane drove up about that time and boy, did she give him an earful!"

I realized they were talking about my Grandma. Say, these stories could really turn out to be interesting. 

"Yeah, he was about three sheets in the wind, and she let him have it with both barrels. Their little boy, Sean, came running out the back door crying about then, and Shane gave him a swat with the back of his hand."

They looked around and saw us then and all at once, the laughter stopped. It seemed they were embarrassed at the turn the story had taken, and it wasn't so funny any more. 

I had gotten a picture of why Grandda had sent us back into the house. I really felt bad for him, but it helped me understand my own family a little better. 

"Say, Ms. O'Hanlon, do you have any more of that chocolate cake sitting around?" asked one of the men who had been standing around talking. 

"Sure. I'll cut you a piece of it. How about I freshen that cup of coffee you're holding? 

And so, the moment passed and pretty soon, they were talking the past again. After about thirty minutes, Grandda came in and greeted them affably, welcoming them to the home, and thanking them for coming. One would never guess the agony he had been going through out in the barn. 

As for me, I was glad that his life had changed for the better, and I knew he was as well. My eyes were getting droopy and I could hardly keep them open. Looking over at Marie and Les, I saw they needed to be in bed. Ma looked at the three of us and sent us to bed.

I had a lot to think about. When we had crawled into our beds, Les asked me, "Zeb, what about our Christmas? We didn't have any, did we?"

(To be continued)  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Zebulon - Day 165 - Historical Fiction

Quickly closing the barn door, I rubbed my hands together. 

"It sure is cold out there, Grandda! Do you suppose it's going to snow some more tonight?"

"Did you happen to look at the sky on your way to the barn?" 

"Well, no."

"Ya always check out the sky, boy. Clear sky at night, sailor's delight. Gonna be clear sailin', then. Grey skies at mornin', sailor take warnin'. Gonna be bad weather. Now, you go back out, look up at the sky." 

I went back out and looked up. The sky was filled with stars, and the moon was round, as well. 

"It's not going to snow," I told them when I went back in. 

"Good," said Grandda, "tonight and tomorrow are going to be long ones."

"Why, Grandda?" Les wanted to know.

"Well, cause we'll be up all night tonight having the Wake, and then we'll be havin' the funeral and buryin' tomorrow."

"What's a Wake?" Marie piped up.

Grandda looked at Marie, "Haven't you ever been to Wake? What about your Da's wake?"

"No, we didn't have one for him, Grandda," I answered for Marie. "Ma told us that we couldn't bury him. We had no money to pay for a funeral or to bury him. We barely had enough for us to live on. I guess he didn't save any money. He spent it all on..." My voice dipped and I couldn't say any more. 

"On what, boy? What did he spend his money on?"

That meant that Grandda didn't know what kind of life we had. How would I tell him what it was like; or what our Da was like on the weekends? Would he even believe me? What would it do to him, now at this time, with Grandma lying in her casket in the house?" 

(To be continued)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Zebulon - Day 164 - Historical Fiction

We all stood by quietly as the casket was opened... Watching as Grandda stood for a few moments gazing into the face of his life's mate, we could see the panoply of emotions playing across his visage. Then the tears began to flow once again down his strong, weathered face. 

"Oh, Martha Jane! Where are you? Where are you? I can only..."

Then, turning away, he patted the shoulder of the funeral director, nodded, and left the house, heading for the barn, his place of solitude. 

We all looked at one another. What was that all about, visitors were wondering. It was evident from the obviously puzzled looks on their faces. I said nothing, because I had no proof of any decision my Grandma might or might not have made, besides which, I didn't consider it to be my place to interpret his remarks.

My Ma just said, "Would anyone like some coffee? I just made a fresh pot."

The moment was over, and conversation flowed once again. People began to approach the casket, murmuring the usual comments like , "Don't she look natchural?"

I joined those gazing on her remains and thought she looked like a wax figure like I had seen in a museum back home. She was the first dead person I had ever seen. My Da's body had been cremated because we hadn't the money to bury him and he was not in a state for us to look at anyway.

After a while of standing around, hearing inane comments, I began looking for Les and Marie. They were not in the house anywhere that I could see and it was beginning to get colder outside. I asked Ma if she had seen them.

"I think they were worried about your grandfather, and went out to look for him, Zebbie."

Ah! Yes, they would, not understanding his need to grieve alone for a few minutes.

"If you are going outside young man, put on your coat! It's cold out there, even in that drafty barn!"

"Yes, Ma," I replied, as I donned my cap also, practically on my way outdoors.

As I shut the door, I heard my Ma saying, "I swear, those kids seem to live in that barn!" I had to laugh, because she was almost right. It was a new experience for us, and Grandda made it a place of interest.

The cold gravels crunched under my shoes as I neared the barn. I could hear the murmur of their voices as I approached the door. Grandda was telling them what sounded like a story. I swung open the barn door to see the three of them in a circle, or so it seemed. 

Les and Marie sat on a low stool in front of Grandda, who sat on the bench. His hands were in motion, as he was apparently describing something to them. He looked over at my entering, and smiled. 

"Come on in, boy, and shut that door! It's got a cold breath!"

(To be continued)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Zebulon - Day 163 - Historical Fiction

Around five o'clock that afternoon, we heard a knock on the back door. That seemed strange, since most everyone else had come to the front that day. When Rosie, who had been doing some dishes, went to answer it, she was pleasantly surprised. It was Arlissa, the girl who had been there before. She had an elderly lady just behind her, who apparently was the grandmother. 

"Howdy do, young lady," she said, her eyes twinkling at Rosie. "You  must be the reason my Arlissy has been a' houndin' me to come back over here. We brung you a corn puddin' fer to eat. Hope ye like it. Ain't nothin fancy," she said the last apologetically, as though she thought it might not be good. 

I soon learned it to be a custom of the people of this area to kinda put down whatever they cooked. I found it to be kind of a sweet way to behave, when I thought about it. 

Here was a friend for Rosie, at last, and she was a really nice one, it seemed. Arlissa's grandma told us her last name was Hinton, and so was Arlissa's. 

It seemed that Arlissa and Rosie were a lot alike. In fact, they could almost be sisters, because they both had the same nose shape and big blue cornflower colored eyes. I wondered if anyone else noticed it. Nah, it was just my imagination, I knew. I was always dreaming of things. 

Well, the day went on, and by now most everyone had left. Finally, Mrs. Hinton told Arlissa it was time they went home and that they could see each other later on in the week. The two girls shyly said good-bye with promises to see each other soon. 

Rosie smiled as she wiped the table. Ma told her it was bedtime and that there would be a lot to do the next day. Rosie went off to bed, happier than I had seen her in some time. I believed Arlissa was a God-send for all of us. 

The next day dawned early for all of us. Now, it seemed the custom then in that area of Kentucky was to return the remains of the deceased to the home for a "wake",  especially  if they were Irish, as my folks were. So, just after breakfast, the dining room table was cleared off for the coffin to be placed. 

Fortunately, the day was a sunny one, and the snow was melting away quickly. That meant a lot of the men would be standing around outside, smoking, chewing, and spitting their tobacco, and talking about such things as men do. 

It wasn't long before they began arriving, following the delivery of the casket containing Grandma's remains. Apparently, they had been on the watch for it. We all stood back from the doorway as  the men from the funeral home brought the casket in and transferred it to the table top. 

"Do you want it open or closed?" he inquired of my Grandda. "Perhaps you would like to check her appearance right now?"

"Yes, I would," replied Grandda. 

(To be continued). 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Zebulon - Day 162 - Historical Fiction

As I gazed around the room, I noticed the area underneath the tree. There were more presents! Were people bringing presents? Why? Had the story about us not having any money gotten around somehow?  I didn't quite know how I felt about that. I certainly was glad for Les and Marie, cause they still believed in Santa, and would have felt crushed without presents. How to explain these gifts though? Well, we would see what developed. 

Going over to where they sat on an ottoman in the corner, I remembered the carving in my pocket, and asked to see theirs. I was very curious about what Marie had brought out of the box. Les proudly held out the eagle he had chosen. 

"Why did you choose the bird?" I wanted to know. "Did you know it was an eagle before you took it out?"

"No, I just knew it was a bird. I like to watch them fly when I am outside, and wonder what it would feel like to be able to go anywhere I like."

Well, that was certainly a new side of Les that I had never seen before. Turning then to Marie, I looked at her expectantly. 

She still looked reluctant, but brought her hand from the pocket where she had been cradling the small creature carving. We still couldn't see what she held. Then she opened her hand to reveal the tiny mouse. A mouse! Why that? 

"Why did you choose a mouse, Marie?"

"I thought it needed me to keep it safe. It is little like I am, and might get lost without me."

"But, Marie, you do know it's not real, don't you?"

"Of course, I do, silly! But it's still little, and I liked it. It just fits into my hand."

We looked around for Rosie and saw her talking to that girl about her age that had brought over food a day or so ago. Hmm. Looks like Rosie had found a friend. 

As the day wore on, people left and others came in. We just kind of ate when we got hungry. It seemed like there was food of all kinds in the kitchen and the refrigerator soon was overflowing. I had never seen so much in one place. That Christmas was my introduction to the real kindness and support of neighbors. I have never forgotten it.

(To be continued) 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Zebulon - Day 161 - Historical Fiction

As soon as we were back inside, I realized that Grandma's body had been taken away. Apparently, Ma had taken care of the matter, and that must be one reason Grandda had taken us out to the barn, so we would not have that memory.  I have learned since, in my line of work, that it leaves a lasting memory, especially for children. I have seen it all too often. 

Ma was removing the remaining bedclothes for laundering, along with discarding the medicine on the bedside table. 

We hurried in to show our treasures to her. She told us she would be with us in just a few minutes. 

Grandda was answering the door again. Another neighbor was bringing a covered dish of food. Ma wouldn't have to cook for days, I thought. 

Later on, the waitress from the little ,diner in town knocked on our front door. When I answered the door, my immediate reaction was to say, "Oh, it's you." 

She looked shame-faced at me and nodded. "The diner is closed today, and I brought this for you-all, and also this."

She handed me a covered dish and also had a big package wrapped in bright Christmas paper. I looked at it in surprise. A Christmas present? Why? She saw the question on my face, and I could see it was a peace offering. 

I decided to accept the offered olive branch, and the gift box. I invited her to come in for some coffee. 

"Really? Uh...well, thank you, Zeb. It is mighty cold today, and a hot cup of coffee would taste good." 

Taking the gift and placing it under the tree, I escorted her into the kitchen, and proceeded to introduce her to Ma. 

"Ma, this is Millie, who works at the diner in town. She brought us a Christmas gift and some food."

"Hello, Millie. Yes, I think we met a few days ago, when I arrived. Thank you for your kindness. Please, sit down and have a cup of coffee. I'll add your name to the list here of very kind people bringing food. Everyone is being so wonderful." 

It wasn't long before our old farmhouse had cars parked all around, with neighbors sitting quietly in our living room talking in hushed tones. It all seemed very strange, but also reminiscent of when my Da was murdered, but somehow different. Then, it was more a time of disgrace for us, and this was more a time of honoring. 

Somehow, it was difficult for me to wrap my mind and understanding around the whole matter.

The little ones, Marie and Les, seemed not to know what to do; Rosie was helping Ma. I just kind of stayed close to Grandda, in case he needed me. 

I kinda liked listening to them all talk. 

(To be continued) 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Zebulon - Day 160 - Historical Fiction

We looked inside the dark cabinet, but could see nothing. Grandda reached into it, removing a sturdy looking cardboard box. The flaps were folded down on it so that we couldn't view the contents. 

"What's in it, Grandda?" Marie wanted to know.  "Can we look?"

Grandda carried the box over to the old bench that we often sat on, and sat down with the box beside him. 

Lifting the flaps on the box, he reached into it. We all leaned forward, trying to see. He quickly removed his hand, and brought nothing out. Apparently, he had changed his mind about the procedure. 

We looked at him in puzzlement. What kind of game was he playing? 

"I decided to let each of you take turns reaching in. Here are your directions: reach in and feel till there is something in your hand that feels interesting to you. Marie, since you are youngest, would you like to go first? 

Marie backed up, shaking her head no. 

"Okay, Les? How about you, then?"

I was brimming with curiosity, but then, I thought about a spider maybe lurking inside that old box. I remembered seeing Grandma step on one in the house. What if one had crawled into that box? I knew spiders loved the dark places.

Les lifted a flap and slowly inserted his small hand, feeling around tenuously, and we all watched his face. What was he feeling?

This is like reaching into a grab-bag, I thought. Les was moving his hand around, and the rest of us stood there waiting our turn. I looked at Grandda, and saw a big smile on his face. He was getting a big kick out of the whole deal.

Finally, after what seemed like an hour, but in actuality was only a few minutes, Les removed his hand and pulled out a what looked like a carving. He held it up to look at and we crowded around him.

"Let us look at what you picked out!" Rosie demanded of him. 

Bossy Rosie! Would she never change? One could only hope.

Les obediently held out the object in his hand. It was a perfectly carved bald eagle. Where did Grandda get it? 

"Okay, do you want to look for one now, little Marie?" he asked. 

Encouraged, Marie nodded and reached into the box. What would she choose? 

She felt around for a long time, before finally bringing out an object. We all leaned forward, straining to see, but she just held it close to her and smiled at Grandda, then hugged his neck. 

It was my turn and I was anxious to take it, but I decided to let Rosie to go next. So, I stepped back and indicated to her that she should take the next one. 

She looked at me in surprise, then, shrugging her shoulders, reached inside the box. She rummaged around until a smile crossed her face, and she removed her hand. She held a perfectly proportioned figure of a horse. Who even knew she liked horses, anyway? I sure didn't. 

Then it was finally my turn. I felt around, touching the smooth wood. There seemed to be dozens of them. Where did he get them? Finally, I decided on mine. I brought out a carving of a dog.

I had always wanted a dog, but we couldn't have one in our house. My Da hated them for some reason. 

We all turned to Grandda then and thanked him. He just smiled a "you're welcome" to us and put the box back into the cabinet. Then he said, "Merry Christmas, children!" 

We all headed back indoors. As we walked, I turned to this surprising man walking beside me and asked,  " Where did you get them, Grandda?"

"Where do you think, boy?"

"At a department store?"

He just smiled and shook his head. 

Then it dawned on me that he was always whittling on a piece of wood. He had carved them! But why were they shut away in a cabinet? 

(To be continued) 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Zebulon - Day 159 - Historical Fiction

It was the doctor who had come to see Grandma several days ago, and had been there several times since. His wife came with him, which I thought was kind of unusual. I wondered why he was there, since Grandma had already died. His wife was carrying a big dish that she handed to my Ma. She told Ma to just put it in the oven and heat it up whenever we were hungry.

Doc's wife then hugged my Grandda and told him how sorry she was, and asked could she do anything to help out. He just shook his head and said, "No, thanks anyway. Thank you for the food. It was right kind of you." 

"Don't mention it, Shane. She's done the same for us, many's the time. Now, if you'ns need anything, jist call us, okay? We're jist a stone's throw away."

The Doc disappeared into the bedroom with Grandda, and came back out in a few minutes, shook Grandda's hand, patted him on the back,  and said he'd be sending out Hanson's shortly.

"Who's Hanson?" I asked Grandda. 

"He runs the funeral home, Zeb. He'll come out and pick up your Grandma's body." He began blowing his nose, and wiping his eyes again. I knew from his eyes that he had already spent a lot of time weeping for his Martha Rose. My eyes teared up in empathy for him. I was sad, too, that I hadn't been able to talk to her more about Jesus. Her time with us was so short after we got there, but I knew I had done all I could. 

"Get your brother and sisters, Zeb, so we can go out to the barn. I have something to show you all."

I wondered what that could be. By this time, Marie had gotten up, too, and was sitting in Ma's lap in the kitchen. I knew she must be wondering what all was going on. Ma was whispering quietly to her, but there was no way of knowing what Marie was thinking. 

"Come on, Marie," I told her, "Grandda has something to show us out in the barn. OH! And it snowed again last night, and I'll bet Ma can make us some snow cream today! Let's get our coats and boots on. Here's your cap to keep your ears warm." I knelt beside her and slipped her toboggan on her head. I wondered what it was we were going to see. 

Pretty soon, we were all bundled up and trooping out to the barn, even Rosie looked interested. I was wondering how she felt about Grandma, but decided to wait till she was ready to talk about it. 

When we got to the barn, we went in and waited while Grandda lit the lantern and set it up on a shelf. It was a kind of eerie light in the dark barn interior, and I don't think I'll ever forget that Christmas morning. 

I thought about the story I had read the night before about Jesus being born in a stable. It probably didn't even have a lantern to light the inside of it. Instead, His was the light that would change the world.

Grandda walked over to a cupboard that rested against one wall, and opened the upper doors on it.

(To be continued)  


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Zebulon - Day 158 - HIstorical Fiction

I was snuggled down into the warm blankets on my bed, sleeping,  yet slowly becoming aware that the room was colder than it was the night before. That just made me want to burrow deeper into the covers. 

Feeling a hand on my shoulder, I tried to shake it off. I was still sleepy and felt like I needed more. 

"Zebbie, wake up! Wake up! Let's go see if Santa Claus left us anything!" It was Les, shaking me, and who still believed in the jolly old elf who supposedly left presents during the night. 

I groaned, then seeing his excitement and fearing for his disappointment, I said, "Okay, Les. But don't be disappointed if he didn't."

"Oh, I know he must have! He never forgets us! Let's go see. Look outside, Zebbie! We have a big snow and ice cycles are hanging on the edge of the house. I'll bet we can make a snow man, too! Maybe Rosie will help us. Do you reckon?"

I felt kind of like an old man, watching his enthusiasm. Somehow, though, it was catching! 

"Yeah, Les! Maybe Ma can make us some snowcream, too! Let's go!" 

We ran into the living room, only to find Ma already up and putting her index finger over her mouth to shush us. Grandda was sitting over on the sofa, his head in his hands. He lifted his head when we came in, and we could see his eyes were red-rimmed. 

"What happened?" I whispered to Ma. 

She motioned us to come into the kitchen. Now what? Why had he been crying? 

Ma told us to sit down at the table. Rosie was already in there, but no Marie. She must still be asleep. I looked at Rosie, who had a strange look on her face like I had never seen her wearing. 

"Children, your Grandma O'Halloran passed away during the night. We have a lot to do today, so please be good and help me as much as you can." 

I jumped up at once and ran into the living room, and into Grandda's arms. I had a question to ask him. 

"Grandda! I'm so sorry! Tell me, did she, did she.." 

I couldn't finish the question, but knew he realized what I was asking.

"I don't know, Zeb, not for sure. I sat with her for a long time, praying for her soul. She was in a lot of pain, but just before she passed on, she looked at me with sorrowful eyes and whispered, 'Tell them I'm sorry.' Then she was gone. I'd like to think she had finally surrendered her soul to the Lord, but I don't know for sure."

I've thought about her a lot since that night, wondering, yet realizing that we can never know for sure about anyone, because Salvation is such a personal thing. We can only see what people do after they proclaim to have accepted Jesus. It is a private thing between them and the Holy Spirit. 

What a sad testimony to give about my Grandma. I guess we will only know for sure when we get to Heaven. 

Soon Les and Rosie came in and hugged Grandda, and then I went into the kitchen. 

"Ma, what are we going to do now? I know we were going to stay here and take care of Grandma, but she's gone now. Are we going to keep on living here?" 

"Of course, Zeb. He still needs us, and we need a place to live. He is going to need us more than ever, because his life's partner is gone."

"Ma, do you think she is in Heaven right now? Grandda said she asked our forgiveness. Would she have done that if she hadn't become a believer?" 

"I don't know, Zebbie. I hope she did, but we can't know for sure." She hugged me tight to her. "Let's just get through this day and the ones to come, the best way we can. We need to be thinking of your grandfather and what he needs right now. Would you help me get breakfast started?"

She had no sooner said this than we heard the doorbell ringing. I wondered who that could be. 

(To be continued)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Zebulon - Day 157 - Historical Fiction

It was very quiet in the room as I read from the Bible the story of how Jesus was born. The only electric lighting in the room was from a few lamps scattered around the room, including the low table lamp sitting next to the rocking chair. There was a fire in the old stone fireplace, and it cast a warm glow in the room. We were all together, and even though I knew there would be no gifts in the morning, I was reading about the most precious gift ever given, and was happy. 

When I finished, Ma said, "Who would like to share something they are thankful for this Christmas?"

We all looked at one another, waiting for the others to speak. Finally, Grandda looked at Grandma and said, "I'm thankful for finally knowing what it is like to really belong to Jesus; also for having you all here and getting to know you. I'm thankful for the many years of having Martha Jane as my wife." He took her hand in his and kissed her on the cheek. 

Ma said, "I'm thankful for four children who love me and each other. I'm thankful that we are all together."

I looked expectantly at Rosie, who had tears rolling down her cheeks, but she simply shook her head and wiped her eyes. I knew she was feeling the love, but also that she was a stubborn girl about showing her feelings. 

Les spoke up and said he was glad we were together, too. 

Marie just nodded  her head. 

My heart was so very full at that time, that I could hardly speak as well. I said, "I'm glad Jesus is in my heart and I can understand more about what Christmas really means."

Then we all looked at Grandma, waiting, hoping to hear her say something positive. She simply shook her head no, and said she would like to go back to bed. My heart ached for her in her misery. It would have been easy to say 'good enough, you miserable old witch,' but it wasn't in me to condemn her. She was already condemned until she asked God's forgiveness and accepted Jesus as Savior. I simply felt sorry for her.

I walked over and went with Grandda as he gently lifted her to carry her back to bed. Going into the bedroom with them, I wanted to try one more time to speak with her. 

Sitting in the chair beside her bed, I watched Grandda cover her gently and ask if she wanted any water. She nodded, and he poured a spoon full of medicine from the ever present medicine bottle near her bed, then held her up so she could drink the water.

I took her hand and she looked at me as though to say, "You again? Can't you just leave me alone?" 

"Grandma, could we just sit here and pray for you?"

"It won't do me any good. You keep harping on me becoming a Christian. I'm telling you, I am already. You are wasting your time."

"Well, how about if we pray any way? It can't hurt anything, can it? I wanted to ask you once again, are you ready to meet Jesus face to face? Can you feel good about how you have lived your life?" 

"Please just leave me alone. Go!" 

I looked at Grandda and he gazed back at me with tears in his eyes, and shooed his hands at me to let me know it was better if I left. I nodded and he continued sitting beside her bed with his head bowed. I knew then that he was praying for his wife. I had done all I could do, but I would be praying before I went to sleep.

Tomorrow was Christmas morning.  (To be continued)