Mr. Peabody and the Robins–A Short Story

Mar 26, 2018 by

Mr. Peabody and the Robins

Franklin Peabody sat studying the scene outside the window of his library dreading the onslaught of spring. Three robins stared watching his every move. Or so he thought. One robin protected her clutch. The nest never sat unguarded if Franklin Peabody was near to touch. When he went outside, robins followed. Or so he thought.

As the light of day waned, Penelope Peabody, the bride of Mr. P., entered with exciting news. She said she too was on the nest, due herself a visit from the Stork.

This news shocked Mr. P., who since a child himself vowed never to have one of his own.

“How can this be Mrs. P?” he demanded. “Are you certain the father is me?”

Mr. Peabody and the Robins, a short story by Donald J. Claxton. 

Franklin Peabody’s accusation crushed the good woman.

“How could you ask such a question of me? You know there is no place in my heart or our bed for anyone but you,” said she.

“I fear bringing a child into this wicked world,” he confided in her. “Evil lurks outside these very panes; a wretchedness for which there is no cure.”

Mrs. Peabody cried and trembled over the surprising reaction of her husband.

And so, she flew upstairs to quarters above the dismal library of Mr. P. where he perched after dinner, sipped a drink or two, and hid between the pages of the latest best seller. All the while robins flocked to observe him through the library’s windows. Above him they could see Mrs. P. crying a bird bath of tears and they chirped among themselves.

“The time has come,” they said in their birdish ways.

“Robbed my mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother he did of eggs in her nest one spring it’s true, now that he has one of his own coming, we shall avenge as sure as an egg is blue,” crowed the mother at rest in the nest.

“That poor woman will worry herself sick and the baby, too,” said another. “But shouldn’t we leave this kind of thing to the ravens of Poe my dear brother?”

“Nonsense!” squawked the third in a passive voice. “Tradition is set, and revenge must be dealt. We will not be happy until an equal measure of loss is felt.”

Mrs. P. made ready for the special day as the robins flocked outside in a special way, and Mr. P. thought of something special to say.

 

Days before the arrival of the Peabody child, Franklin exited the residence did he, with a bag of bread and walked to a bench in the park to sit under an oak tree.

The birds issued their warnings to each other, but going to the park they shrieked, “he’s returning to the scene of the crime!”

“Franklin Peabody, we know what you did that day as a kid. The murder of our ancestors can never be hid’,” said a venerable robin.

“I was a boy, curious at heart. I meant no harm I promise you that. I picked up those eggs to carry them home and before I knew what, in my hand they went splat.”

This stirred the ire of the birds.

“Nature is best left alone in the woods not in the palms of some greedy young boy,” cried an old timer.

“I know that now,” exclaimed Mr. Franklin P. “but how was I to know that then?”

“Your teacher on the field trip earlier in the day said these very words, ‘Our place is not to touch but to admire the beauty and power of Nature,’ did she not?” demanded the venerable robin.

“She did, she did indeed, I must confess,” whimpered Mr. P. “I am guilty as charged, but I do not know how to make amends for this colossal mess.”

“Fair is fair in Nature, Mr. P,” cried a round robin.

Mr. P. sat thinking for a moment as though he’d brought his study with him.

“You are angry over something that happened generations ago. Isn’t your sin as damnable as mine?”

“He is trying to trick us,” charged a younger bird. “What happened long ago hurts me every day! Make him pay for what he did.”

An older bird chirped to the younger.

“Oh, be quiet. Neither of us were even born then.”

Mr. P continued.

“Let this new generation be born and our mistakes forgiven.”

The older robin moved closer to Mr. P.

“’Tis tiring to keep angry over something one did not experience firsthand.”

“I have suffered for my sin and longed to make amends,” Mr. Peabody said. “When my child comes, the child shall have the name Robin.”

The birds fell silent.

“I see how you at my windows, worrying if your nests are safe,” Mr. Peabody said. “I will set out seed and build bird houses, so you are worry-free from children, cats, and other predators.”

“That way you will give life to more than the three we lost,” a momma robin said.

“I cannot replace the three whose lives I stole, but perhaps more will have a greater chance to live as I make amends,” Mr. P. said.

The birds chirped among themselves and accepted his offer.

He then opened the bag of crumbs and shared the bread until consumed.

 

Upon returning home, Franklin discovered Mrs. P. had flown the coup. Gone was her bag kept readied for a trip to the hospital. When Mr. P. reported to the delivery ward as arranged, they’d not heard from her. Nor any others. Nor had her parents. Or so he thought. Mr. Peabody was so distraught, he returned to his study and since he had no child of his own, he did not name one Robin. He did not set out seed or make bird feeders. The birds kept watch on his study and didn’t know what happened to Mrs. P. either.

Or so he thought.

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A Moveable Feast

Mar 16, 2018 by

A Moveable Feast

In my writing and reading, I am studying Earnest Hemingway. That led to my reading of A Moveable Feast, published in 1964 after he had died. The version I have includes a foreword by his son, Patrick, and an introduction by his grandson, Sean. There are also many newly released sketches about his son Jack and first wife, Hadley.

Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.”

The chapters about F. Scott Fitzgerald and the subsequent descriptions including his wife, Zelda Sayre, formerly of Montgomery, Alabama add a new level of color to the first celebrities of the Jazz Age. (Check out the short film I did last summer on Zelda as a ghost in Montgomery–going back home one night and visiting her old haunts in modern Montgomery.)

Hemingway paints a picture of Zelda that is anything but flattering. He all but says that Zelda ruined Scott’s writing career out of jealousy. Fitzgerald is portrayed in firsthand stories that show why he only produced a limited number of books in his career.

For instance, when they first met, Scott invited Hemingway to take a train with him from Paris to Lyon to retrieve a car Scott and Zelda had left broken down. Hem arrived at the train, Scott did not. Hem boarded, Scott did not. Hem arrived in Lyon, Scott arrived an hour later. Hem booked a room and wired Zelda where he was staying, but the message never got to Scott, who found Hem the next morning. Then there was the matter of where the two would eat breakfast. Zelda apparently hated cars with tops and so their’s had none and it was raining that day. Scott and Hem made it an hour before they had to stop in the rain. Once they stopped for the day, Scott said he felt like he was catching his death of cold. Hem kept insisting that he had no temperature and that he was fine. Scott insisted he was dying. He insisted Hem find a thermometer. The pharmacy was closed. Hem found a waiter who located an odd thermometer which he told Scott, “You’re lucky it’s not a rectal thermometer.” No temp, but that didn’t satisfy Scott. But after some doing, he then went downstairs to call Zelda and talked to her for an hour. This, he assured Hemingway was the first night the two had spent apart since they’d been married. The way Hem told it, it was a gross case of co-dependency before anyone used the term. The whole bit makes one wonder how stable Scott was himself. Then to see how Hemingway portrays the constant fighting between Scott and Zelda is eye-opening.

The first season TV series on Amazon shows they have a contentious relationship but Hemingway paints a much harsher picture. At one point they are arguing with their chauffer from France about whether or not they can put oil in their car, or whether or not their driveway is their’s or not.

But there are a few segments of the book where Hemingway writes about writing. “On Writing in The First Person,” Hemingway says that if a writer does a good enough job, “you make the person who is reading … believe that the thing has happened to him too.” He goes on to say that if one can achieve this it will “become part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”

The observations and sketches about living in Paris in the early 1920s are colorful and enjoyable. He shares what it was like to live poor and to work hard at honing his craft. He was in love with Hadley and focused, intent on becoming a serious writer and loving living in what he felt was the best place in the world to be a writer at the time.

The chapters about Gertrude Stein and her calling Hemingway’s “the lost generation” are informative, as well as his summation that every generation is a little lost.

I enjoyed the read and will likely go back through this one a couple more times in my studies. There are Easter eggs hidden here among his feast of words.

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Neil Diamond – Done Too Soon

Mar 14, 2018 by

Neil Diamond – Done Too Soon

Neil Diamond canceled a planned world tour this year. He has Parkinson’s and in the words of one of his songs, is done too soon. The disease is so bad he can’t keep traveling. Honestly, I wasn’t surfing for tickets, but this is sad news. For the past 46-47 years of my life, Neil’s tunes have enriched the musical fabric of my life.

I first remember Neil Diamond when we moved to Derby, Kansas near McConnell AFB in late spring 1972. When Dad returned from his second tour in Nam, this one as a member of the elite USAF helicopter group, the Green Hornets, he brought with him a Sansui receiver, Teac reel-to-reel, and a Pioneer turntable that fed some high powered Sansui speakers.

One of the albums that filled two bedroom home on S. Post Oak was Neil Diamond’s Taproot Manuscript. Dad played it every Saturday morning as we waited for a place in base housing. To this day I can hum every note of side two of the album–from “Childsong” all the way to the frogs fading at the end–twenty minutes later.

Shilo

When I got older, I found the jazzed up version of “Shilo” on Neil Diamond’s 12 Greatest Hits album. There’s no telling how many times I’ve played and replayed this song. From grades four through… I won’t say how old, I played air drums along with him and the orchestra.

Something about the high-hat and the drums rolling across the set has always made me as happy as Neil singing about his imaginary childhood friend. There are a couple other versions of the song but they don’t come close to the one on this album.

Now I know some of my friends reading this will mock me and make fun of Neil. That’s okay. They’re not getting sung in seventh inning stretches either. He is. Bum bum bum…. (“Sweet Caroline”)

“Do It …” the 45 single sounded better than any album or CD ever has.

The Monkeys have Neil to thank for “I’m A Believer.” It was Number One on BillBoard Magazine for weeks.

Neil had tons of hits. “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “I am… I Said,” “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” and on and on….

But now I wonder if he’s playing one self-fulfilling song in his head more often than the others.

Done Too Soon

I’ve been mindful of this song since dad brought home Taproot Manuscript, but never really understood it until I grew older. Neil goes through a litany of famous people and then remarks that all of them have something in common with all of us.

In 1970, he wrote himself a warning in “Done too Soon.” I hope he heeded it and enjoyed every minute along the way.

“And each one there
Has one thing shared
They have sweated beneath the same sun
Looked up in wonder at the same moon
And wept when it was all done
For being done too soon
For being done too soon.”

We all race through our lives seldom taking the time to enjoy each day as we live it. That was the message here. Not to do that. And even if we do, Neil postulated as a younger man, that it would still happen, that our lives are but a wisp of time and then we are gone, or we are old and our days of youth are swept away before we know it.

Neil Diamond, thank you for the music and the memories. They’ve been valuable in my lifetime.

Heed Neil’s words as you live out your days. Live every day as if your last. And enjoy every single moment as much as you may because one day you’re going to look back and wonder where the days went and remark that it was all done too soon.

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The Hazel Wood

Mar 12, 2018 by

The Hazel Wood

Last week I read Melissa Albert’s debut book “The Hazel Wood,” a young adult novel 355 pages strong. Not something I would normally read, but I’m trying to better understand what tops the best seller lists and this has been atop the Costco list recently. I wanted to know why.

The is a modern-day fairy tale but dark and dreary. The first half of the book I found rather intoxicating. Night one I consumed 87 pages. The second night I reached page 167. The third page 264. I did not read the fourth night. On the fifth eve I reached page 320. On the sixth I had 35 pages to read. It took seven nights to finish.

It was what a writer would call the Supreme Ordeal, where all hope seems lost for the main character, where things seemed to fall apart for me. After finishing I saw some of the comments on Goodreads and that seems to be the consensus, too. Though I thought most of the low ratings on Goodreads read as bratty.

Melissa Albert’s command of the English language is strong. She uses word pictures to help her readers imagine what she wants them to see. Even in a first-person novel where the reader is inside the head of the main character, Alice, the entire book. That’s not an easy thing to do.

She did a good job of foreshadowing and setting up and the following through later.

Like I said, I enjoyed the setup in the first half of the book. The latter half got to be a little strange for me. Like I said, this is not something I would typically read, but I am glad I did. I gave the book a four-star rating on Goodreads. These people who hated it, don’t appreciate the art of it, and this book is a work of art.

I don’t believe that any book must have a happily ever after ending. This one has something of a HEA ending, but without providing a spoiler, maybe not in the way the bratty Goodreads commenters would like. If an author writes a book that doesn’t end the way readers think it should, the author has done his/her job. Whether that’s good for the business-side of writing is another matter. What’s true to the story first should always be the first consideration. The answer isn’t always easy, I’m sure.

Congratulations to Melissa Albert. Writing this story, no doubt, was not easy. There are lots of twists and turns to keep her up many a night as she composed this novel. I hope she keeps writing despite the few Negative Nellies on Goodreads. illegitimi non carborundum is all I have to say to that.

(You can check out my list of 101 books I’m reading and recommend by following the link here. I’m at number 61 with this book as of December 2016. I’m using these books to improve my craft. Some of them are about writing better, some of them are fantastic reads. I invite you to check out the list. If you know of something I should read, please tell me about it.)

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I Can’t Tell You — A Father’s Poem to a Daughter

Mar 9, 2018 by

I Can’t Tell You — A Father’s Poem to a Daughter

This is a father’s poem to a daughter. Years ago, circa 1998, maybe early 1999, before her twin sisters were born, I wrote this poem for Chandler. I found it in the garage the other day, the pages worn and stained the way a poem written twenty years ago should be. Here it is in digital form so that won’t ever happen again.

This may be my poem to Chandler, but I dare say it’s probably a message most fathers have about their little girls. I could apply it to Reagan and Haley as well and have. Looking back, I think we’ve done just about all of the things I mention in the poem–though I never had to sample mud pies!

They are now little women, but I forever hold them in my heart like you see Chandler in the picture to the right. That’s her in my lap where she and the twins will always be in spirit.

I Can’t Tell You

I can’t tell you how much I love you,
Or how much I like to hold you.
I can’t tell you how happy you make me feel inside
How you make my heart pound so hard with pride.

I can’t tell you how much I love to watch you grow,
To learn to walk, to run, to catch and throw.
I can’t tell you how much I’d like you to play piano
To learn to act, or dance or sing soprano.

I can’t tell you how much I like to kiss you
Or measure when we’re apart how much I miss you.
I can’t tell you how I want you to be so smart
To do well in science, English and event art.

I can’t tell you how much I want you to know,
The feel of grass, of fallen leaves and snow.
I can’t tell you how much I want to walk with you
To climb big rocks, to talk, to jump and sing songs, too.

I can’t tell you how much I want to learn with you,
About computers, cooking, baby dolls, and mud pies, too.
I can’t tell you all I see when you’re at rest
And think about my limits you sometimes test.

I can’t tell you how much I love to see you read
And to reach out to me when you feel in need.
I can’t tell you how excited I get every day
When you come to me and say, “Daddy, let’s play.”

I can’t tell you how much I love to brush your hair
To tickle, and tumble and to tell you I care.
I can’t tell you how much it hurts to see you fall,
Or to not be there in the day when I know you call.

I can’t tell you about all I want you to know,
But for now, I’ll work on “Red light stop. On green you go.”
I can’t tell you I’ll always be at your side,
One day you’ll grow up and become a bride.

I can tell you it will be hard to walk you down that aisle,
But I promise you now, I’ll be wearing a smile.
I can tell you I’ll be thinking of so many other days then,
How much I’d like to go back and do it all again.

And I can tell you right now that makes me sad,
So today, I’ll just concentrate on being your Dad.

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Gonna Write You A Letter….

Mar 8, 2018 by

Gonna Write You A Letter….

Not long ago, I bought resume paper and matching envelopes. Not to send out resumes but for something more special–letter writing.

Once I load the paper into my 1951-model Smith-Corona Silent, (taking care to ensure the letterhead is correct), I write someone I’ve not corresponded with in a while. Maybe someone I have never written before. 

My penmanship is better after months of hand-written Morning Pages. But how often these days does anyone receive the gift of a letter composed on a typewriter? Yeah, rarely.

My goal is a letter a day. One-page to let a special person know they were on my mind. This is so much better, not to mention cheaper than Hallmark. More original. More personal. More caring.

I don’t ask for a letter in return, though a typing pen pal would be nice. these days we dash emails and texts off with so little thought behind them. I enjoy my time at the typewriter taking the care to send genuine thoughts and to do my level best not to make any typos.

Dumping By Snapchat

A friend of mine had her son dumped by a girlfriend recently. She sent him a Snapchat message. He read the Dear John and it disappeared, forever. They’d been going steady for more than a year. They are 14, but still. This from a girl born in Alabama. She knows better and her mother taught her better, too. Emily Post is rolling in her grave.

Better Mail

My friend Harold Duncan often tells his mail carrier he wishes the Postal Service would bring “better mail.” The other day Harold had his wish fulfilled with a one-page letter thanking him for many years of friendship and support.

Typing With a Butter Knife

Owning a typewriter is rare these days. I bought my first last fall–a Smith-Corona Super Sterling like my dad had when I was a boy. In the documentary California Typewriter, Tom Hanks turned me onto the Smith-Corona Silent model. Hanks says that of the 250 typewriters he has, the Silent is the one he could not do without. I concur. It’s like typing with a butter knife.

My typewriters have changed how I write. The rhythm of the intricate machine slows my thought process. Words form pictures in my mind as the letters flow to my fingertips, depress a key, activate a series of levers and springs before compressing the fibers of a black ribbon and leap onto the white canvas of the non-glowing, porous page.

I revised my novel “The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club” on my typewriters. Instead of cutting, they helped grow the story into something new and magical. Yesterday I started querying agents.

Times are crazy busy. I’ve enjoyed the responses from friends who’ve received my letters. Writing them was worth it. Every clickety-clack….

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My Social Media Break & Journalism Slamming 101

Feb 19, 2018 by

Just today, Fox News is using SLAM in two of its headlines. Either someone at Fox News has a slim vocabulary or they have nothing better to write than stuff that does not qualify as news.

My Social Media Break

I’ve been taking a break from Facebook the past month or so.

I’ve been working to cut down my amount of time on Twitter and certainly how much time I spend looking at the Fox News and CNN websites.

Since The Dallas Morning News began charging to even look at their content I don’t bother with local news. The TV news product long stopped being news in my mind so I gave up that habit a long time since. As a result, I must say, my mind feels better each day.

If I could kick the habit of looking at what Fox News and CNN feel passes for “news,” I’d be a good bit better. Each time I’m on Twitter I spend a good bit of time blocking people who feel the need to broadcast ugliness and hate rather than making intelligent comments. But instead of the Universe of ugly getting smaller, it seems like the size of the ocean remains the same.

“Slamming” 

I’ve noticed of late that Fox News and CNN have taken to using the verb “Slam” in headlines. Anderson Cooper Slams Trump… CNN Slams North Korea … So and So Slams Fox News for….

I don’t remember there being a Slamming 101 class in journalism school. That must be a new development. I wonder who the professors are for such a class and how they teach it. Which university print press has the rights for the text book and how much it costs? So much for objectivity from the news desk. I thought that’s what journalists were supposed to be. Objective. How can they do that when they’re slamming people? And what gives them the high and mighty right to do so? How did we elevate them to such a social rung to be the deciders? I don’t recall doing that.

This isn’t news that’s being reported and the problem is people keep reading this garbage. When we stop clicking on this, CNN, Fox News, and anyone else who posts this noise will get the hint.

But I guess that’s what the news business has devolved into. Reminds me of Mrs. Reid in eighth grade in Atwater, CA. My first newspaper class. I got an F on a paper and a D for the six weeks because she insisted we write a short fiction story. I maintained that we should not be practicing writing fiction in a news writing class. My short story ended up being an accounting about how we should not be doing what we were doing. Hence the F grade.

Now journalists write fiction in the news all the time and don’t think a thing about it. Congratulations Mrs. Reid. You were 40 years ahead of your time. And the world has gone to hell because of it. Mrs. Reid should have a Fake News award in her name.

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