Are we more gullible than in the 1938 Martian invasion?

Are we more gullible than in the 1938 Martian invasion?

October 30—the day to buy Halloween treats and prepare your vampire, witch, pirate, or another costume.

It’s also the day of a staggering historic event that few people today think or even know about: The day in 1938 when the evening radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” caused Americans to believe Martians invaded our country.

The hour-long broadcast was, of course, fake news. It was a radio play based on H.G. Well’s 1897 science fiction novel.


Frightened people flooded police departments with phone calls. National guardsmen steeled themselves for dangerous duty. Callers begged electric companies to cut power to keep the source from the Martian invaders. In the aftermath, newspapers reported suicide attempts, heart attacks, and mass evacuations from cities.

How Americans viewed the Martian invasion on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938.

How Americans viewed the Martian invasion on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938. Artist unknown.

In 1968, in my first journalism college class, we listened to the 1938 radio broadcast in analyzing how mass media has huge power in influencing people. The year 1938 was before TV; radio was the influencer, the readiest source of entertainment and news.

I had never heard of “War of the Worlds” prior to my class. The new knowledge opened a world of skepticism for me. Even today, I remember thinking back then, “How can people be so gullible? So stupid? Why didn’t they just change the channel to another station to verify what was going on? To get a different view?”

You would think today’s Americans are more sophisticated in their thinking.

Oh, au contraire. Unfortunately, we seem more gullible. The evidence can be seen in the mass media’s influence over many citizens, particularly where politics are concerned. As a result, too many influenced Americans embrace the philosophy that they are right and you, you jackass, are wrong…and stupid!

So many books and media articles have been written about reasons for this Great American Divide that a library could be filled. From what I can tell in my simple way of thinking, the reasons boil down to two. Some people refuse to admit there are other valid viewpoints. Second, many people are like the gullible 1938 Americans: They believe what they see in the media they are dedicated to and refuse to search out other sources.

I have friends who daily spend hours absorbing right-wing blather from Fox TV, conservative radio talk shows, and Twitter and Facebook postings that reflect their personal views. Other friends are diehard fans of more liberal blather from CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and social media. When friends from either side begin their blather, I keep mum or, depending on how well I know the people, suggest they broaden their views by listening to the blather of the opposing side. Such a suggestion is usually met with rolling eyes that signal distaste of the mere thought.

The adverse impacts of not looking beyond what you see, read or hear from your favorite news and social media outlets can’t be overexaggerated: Fewer Americans are Covid-vaccinated due to listening to partisan talk show hosts. We face a November 8 general election where the outcome could decrease voting rights or women’s health. Politicians and their families are targets of threats and violence. Results of the Great American Divide at the basic level: Family members don’t speak to relatives; friends avoid friends. The list can go on and on…

The solution? To my own personal disappointment, I don’t have a solution. Can we get the media to change its blather? Oh, Hades no, too many $$$s are on line for talk show hosts, TV networks and other media outlets to not keep the public’s eyes and ears glued solely to rightwing or more liberal media. Sadly, there seems to be no easy solution unless people wise up and switch the channel from “War of the Worlds” to another station to learn and appreciate more information and differing viewpoints.

So, a final thought: Search around, ladies and gentlemen, to discover what others say. And be flexible and smart enough to revise your own opinions. Especially if you hear a radio show host claim Martians have invaded.

{Click here to listen to the 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast. Listening time: 58 minutes.}

For more information:

Finding “The Lost Apothecary”

Finding “The Lost Apothecary”

Seldom do I start reading a novel that I think I probably won’t like. There are zillions of novels floating around in the literary world. Time is limited. So “pick-and-choose carefully” is my mode of operation—and I often rely on the opinions of friends who have read a possibility to decide whether I should even gaze at the first page.

Such was the case with The Lost Apothecary, a first-time work of historical fiction by Sarah Penner, a Kansas native and University of Kansas graduate who stepped away from the corporate world after 13 years to write and live in Florida with her husband and their miniature dachshund named Zoe. Yes, I always look up the background of a new author just to see what she or he might be all about.

A Book Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

I had misgivings when I first learned a few basic things about the novel, which was published in March 2021. A woman two centuries ago dishing out poison to wives so they can kill their husbands? And, in our time, a woman flees in a marital snit to London? On top of that, no sex, no car chases, nor fistfights or terrorists planning to blow up the world? The book seemed like any number in a horde of mind-numbing romance novels that I can buy on Amazon for $1.99—you know, the ones with covers featuring a warrior-hero hunk with long-hair, bare chest, longingly admired by a wanton-eyed babe.

I have a friend who was lukewarm about The Lost Apothecary and another who thought it was great. The best literary critic I know, my wife Patty, gave it a thumb’s up. To check things out a bit more, I read reviews (yup, I do that, too) and found, among many accolades, one review that used such descriptors as “crackling suspense, unforgettable characters, and searing insights.” I also read an interview that Sarah Penner did for the Los Angeles Public Library. I’ve found that interviews with an author usually help to flesh out what a novel or nonfiction book is about, as well as the accuracy of settings and background action. Interviews often offer an insight into the amount of research behind an author’s work. In Sarah’s case, she spent time in the British Library, which is a setting in the novel; reviewed old manuscripts and druggist diaries; and studied poisoning cases in the 17th and 18th centuries.

You might think that—if I had foregone all of this footwork—I could’ve instead been 50 pages into The Lost Apothecary. But it was time well-spent, and spending time reading the 320-page novel is something I highly recommend to everyone.

It’s a lovely complex work with multiple levels of themes and three interesting, tenacious main characters. Each character is tragically flawed in her own way, Each is seeking something. The basic heart of the story is the truth sought by all of us, female and male. We are all seekers of something—a better life, peace of mind, the just-right career, whatever. A lucky few find what they seek, but most, well, we fail in the quest.

The novel opens in modern times with Caroline escaping to London after she learns the life-shattering news that her husband of 10 years had an affair. The trip to London was supposed to have been for Caroline and her husband to celebrate their 10-year anniversary, but Caroline was so furious she journeyed alone.

Caroline is in London only a few hours when—to purposely do something new in her life—she goes mudlarking in the River Thames. I have to admit, I was like the American Caroline, I had never heard of the term “mudlarking.” A Google search found that it is a practice that dates back as far as the late 18th century when people searched the muddy riverbanks to see what they could find to sell or use themselves—sort of like our modern-day equivalent of dumpster-diving.

As any good author would do, Sarah Penner got the realistic feel of a literary scene by immersing her feet in the mud of River Thames. During the course of three mudlarking sessions, she found pottery, clay pipes, metal pins and animal bones. (For more info, click on the link to the library interview referenced above.)

During her mudlarking excursion, the character Caroline finds an ancient, small glass vial with an engraved marking of what looks to be a bear. The vial, as it turns out, is a historical artifact that likely came from an apothecary shop in the far past. How did she find it among the muck and mud? She followed advice given by an older wise gentleman, known as Bachelor Alf, who leads mudlarking excursions. His philosophy is to look for anomalies, things out of place—here I could easily tack on the phrase “in your life”—when you’re searching through the mud for treasure.

He says, “…let your subconscious find the anomaly. Our brains are meant to identify breaks in a pattern. We evolved that way, many millions of years ago. You are not searching for a thing so much as you are searching for an inconsistency of things, or an absence.”

In other words, as he later advises, “You must trust your instinct more than your eyes.”

Author Sarah Penner

Sage advice, certainly. But realistic? How many of us in the frenetic, sensory-overloaded daily grind of our modern world actually have the time for personal introspection to ponder beyond what’s for dinner, catching a taxi or snoozing in front of the tube?

Caroline hadn’t, most certainly, but now, in a foreign city brimming with sensory excitement, just shattered by marital betrayal, she does.  She admits to herself, “Well, there were a number of things absent for me at the moment, not the least of which was any security or surety about what the rest of my life might entail.”

Standing in the muddy detritus of the river (hmm, anybody care to make an analogy here?), with the ancient vial in hand, Caroline is like those fortunate folks who can feel a connection with times gone by when viewing a Monet waterlily or reading a historical novel. Caroline is a historian at heart, but her memory and feelings of this are so deeply buried that she has, for all practical purposes, forgotten them.

The vial, she realizes, gives her a connection to the past: “Centuries might separate me from whomever last held the vial, but we shared in the exact sensation of its cool glass between our fingers. It felt as though the universe, in her strange and nonsensical way, meant to reach out to me, to remind me of the enthusiasm I once had for the trifling bits of bygone eras, if only I could look beneath the dirt that had accumulated over time.”

Just as any of us might gaze upon a trivial object that suddenly makes us think of something else, the vial clicks with Caroline. It’s the symbol of a new path ahead. “This glass object—delicate and yet still intact, somewhat like myself—was proof that I could be brave, adventurous, and do hard things on my own. I dropped the vial into my pocket.”

This is one of those literary turning points like you find in Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Dickens, and (oh, lord, please forgive me for slipping this in with those greats) the movie World War Z. For Caroline, it’s the beginning of her search for anomalies in her life—the inconsistency of things, the breaking of pattern, the absence of something in her life, as Bachelor Alf had pointed out. She begins an analysis of the path she took up a decade earlier to gain marriage and hopefully motherhood. Soon it becomes a quest to understand what she is missing in her life, and along the way she unravels the mystery of the vial, or so it seems.

Her quest takes the reader into the London of 1791. Please note, it takes the “reader” and not Caroline. As much as I love the Outlander novel series and other time-traveling sagas, this is not a time-traveling work. Caroline stays put in her modern times; the other two main characters, in theirs of 1791. The presence of the vial is the connecting thread from one time period to the other.

The novel’s other two main characters have a story that is equally intriguing as Caroline’s.

Nella is an apothecarythe lost apothecary—who, in the year 1791 in London, specializes in providing poison to ladies who want to be gone of their philandering husbands. Nella seems almost witch-like in appearance, as if she could star in the Broadway play Wicked. But she’s not a witch. She’s a scorned woman whose soul and body are being eaten from the inside out by the wickedness of what she does. She is, indeed, a “lost” apothecary. Caroline discovers that such a woman did exist but her name, like so many other women in history, is lost forever to those of us in the modern world.

Meanwhile, Eliza is a 12-year-old girl still innocent in many ways of the world. Nonetheless, she has gumption, bravado and faithfulness to match any literary hero. On any given day, I would gladly put Eliza up against Hera, the Greek goddess who protected women. Eliza bonds with Nella when the girl arrives at the apothecary shop to pick up a poison for her mistress, who wants to rid herself of her husband. The vial, coincidently, is similar—with the bear marking, designating the apothecary shop—to the one Caroline finds while mudlarking two centuries later.

It’s important to note, by the way, that the shop is hidden so only women who need its deadly services can find it. No, this isn’t magic. It’s a shop concealed behind a wall in what looks to be an abandoned store. In short, word-of-mouth was the means of advertising the shop among the ladies of London. The shop and a well-tattered ledger that Nella maintains become critical props in the telling of Nella and Eliza’s story.

Their story revolves around unfortunate miscommunication and unwitting errors that put their lives at serious risk. Eliza’s bravery saves the proverbial day for both of them. Or does it? Caroline’s quest to learn more about the vial seems to indicate so, at least for Eliza. But, in truth, the reader does not know for certain.

Many more positive words can be said about The Lost Apothecary, but more insights are what the reader should find out for herself or himself. Take your time reading this novel. There is a lot packed into it. And also take time to ponder, to think, about inconsistency of things in your life.

Finally, I would like to make observations about two issues that struck me as important.

Nella and Caroline’s story could easily stand alone without Caroline’s story. However, without the story of Nella and Caroline as a backdrop, Caroline’s story may have sounded more like a modern romance novel: woman scorned, woman finds herself. Not that I have anything against the modern romance genre—I love romance stories; Nora Roberts is one of my favored authors—but I’m very pleased that Sarah Penner wove the two stories together. It’s a winner.

My final comment involves an underlying point made by the author, an unfortunate truth. The role of women in history was undoubtedly of extreme importance; yet we know so little about their presence and impacts. History—what we learn from historical documents—is overwhelmingly dominated by males as the heroes and villains. This historical observation about women is especially true when it comes to the recording of the way women of yesteryear interacted with and influenced each other.

Only now, in recent years, are authors and such mass media as television finally focusing on women in history. This is an excellent societal and historical advance, but, in the end, it does not yet take away from what Caroline emphasized near the end of the novel: “History doesn’t record the intricacies of women’s relationships with one another; they’re not to be uncovered.” The Lost Apothecary is a novel and therefore fiction, but it does gives us valuable and revealing insights into the lives, times and relationships of women today and in the late 1700s.


How to Muse on Your Birthday

The other day my wife Patty asked me what I wanted for my birthday, which is January 29. I thought for a moment. I’m a very lucky critter. Unlike billions of people around the world. I don’t need or want any material thing—except for one thing.

I responded, “A haircut.”

Due to Covid, I haven’t been to my barber, Rex, since March. He’s been my barber for four decades and is the best in the world. Patty has filled in temporarily and does a very fine job.

Then, during lunch on January 28, she joked, “You’re going to be old on your birthday.” I’m 71 this birthday. I’ll admit it: I robbed the cradle when it came to hitching up with Patty. She’s just a kid—all of five months younger than I am.

January 29th was a fun day of hearing from many great people I haven’t seen in person for too long in these Covid-shrouded times.

I always look forward to the message that my nephew, Ron, sends along, a new version of every year. This year’s:

“At your age, I bet the candles cost more than the birthday cake. You are so old your birth certificate says expired on it. Watching the movie Jurassic Park probably brings back a lot of memories. Hahaha. A couple more: Remember going to that antique auction and three people bid on you? So old your first car was a covered wagon. Hope you have a really good birthday!”

He’s a mere youngster,13 years younger than I am. And, with his birthday in the fall, I have many months to figure out an appropriate birthday wish for him.

Our friend Lori texted this short video as a reminder that I’m only as old as my knees (But what if I had knee-replacement surgery. Which I haven’t. Would I be 1 again?). Please note: This is not me in the video, although I’m there in spirit. Click on the sound to get the full effect:

And my friend Jerry (he’s just a kid, too, only 70), who has put up with me since high school, sent along this poem—he is a poet in heart and writing:

Seventy-one doesn’t sound like fun
Although in some Faraway day
I hope to emulate you in that very way

Speaking of fun
Faraway moves on the run
And fun comes from speaking to
Others not
Usually seen because
Of course it’s wrong
Even if it’s a right

Divine guidance could be sought
But never being far
From amusing thought
I ease along in
My simple way
Enough about me
Have a very Gary day
(including pie)

Jerry’s poetic pie reference, by the way, comes from my favorite treat on my birthday: to go to a certain local greasy spoon and eat cherry pie. But, oh, woe, not, this Covid year.

On another birthday thought, one of my favorite people in history, Harriet Tubman, was born on January 29. We owe a lot to her. So give her a happy birthday wish in your mind.

And to everyone, whenever your birthday: Carpe diem. Enjoy the day. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm. Stay happy. And happy birthday.

Politics after death: I’m right, you’re wrong, by gawd!

As the Biden presidential inauguration approaches, I’ve been thinking about a gravely ill man who wanted to live long enough to see Trump impeached. It took some Google searching to track down Michael Garland Elliott, who passed away April 6, 2017, at age 75 in Oregon.

Mr. Elliott and the others mentioned in this article were entwined in the pernicious polarization of politics that many of us have fallen into. When you scrape away the bruised peelings, scoop out all the bitter rhetoric and get down to the very garbage at its core today, our country’s politics—at this moment in time—can unfortunately be boiled down to a simple definition: I’m right and, by gawd, you’re wrong. Some folks want to hold true to this sentiment even after they’re ashes or six feet under.

Regardless of whether you’re political inclined or could care less about politicians, Mr. Elliott’s story is intriguing. It’s a bit sad, a bit happy and a bit funny. So are the stories of the other dead whom I mention here.

According to his obituary, Mr. Elliott was once a member of a semi-pro basketball team that played exhibition games where the players dressed as women. During those games, he was called Skaggy Maggie. In everyday life, he was a sharp dresser and a Porsche enthusiast who owned a dozen of the fancy cars over the years.

But nothing touched his heart like golf, a sport he became passionate about. He had a bit of a temper. One time he was so angered by a poor shot that he threw his club into a tree. Eventually, every club in his bag ended up in the tree.

His health declined during the last decade of his life, something he gracefully accepted, and his passion turned to TV news. When he was no longer able to golf, he instead threw things at the TV.

It’s needless to elaborate on his views of Trump. After all, how many dying people have the goal of staying alive until a president is kicked out of office?

By the time of his death, Mr. Elliott’s family was gone. He had friends, however. Among them was his best friend, his ex-wife. She was with him at the end. Hers were the last words he heard, and those words were “Donald Trump has been impeached.”

“Upon hearing that,” his obit stated, “he took his final, gentle breath, his earthly work concluded.” His death occurred prior to Trump’s first impeachment, so the end-of-life message was not the truth, but this compassionate fib can easily be forgiven by the living.

Mr. Elliott, by the way, was the first to be reported but not the only person to pass away only after hearing impeachment news (although fake news) about Trump.

Corliss D. Gilchrist, 91, of Altoonja, Iowa, died May 3, 2017, after he was told the process to impeach Trump had begun. This fake news was told to Mr. Gilchrist so “he could rest in peace,” according to his obituary. He was, noted the obit, a “stoic, hardworking, and simple man who had a joyful outlook on life.”

Lest we think the prospect of Trump’s political demise is a life-extending panacea, there is the case of a Georgia man, Bill Bryant Jr., 87, who died in September 2016, two months before the presidential election. Mr. Bryant was an Army veteran, father of six, a graphic designer, organic farmer, VW bus driver, and all-around character who lived “honorably, with humor and to the fullest.” According to his obituary, Mr. Bryant didn’t want to witness the outcome of the 2016 election and he had also “determined nothing on television was worth watching anymore.”

These three cases are representative of what one can discover on Google about people who want to ensure their political views are heard from the afterlife.

Some obituaries have urged family and friends to vote against one candidate or another, as in the case of a 70-year-old chiropractor in Pittsburgh, Penn., who in his obituary asked loved ones and the public to not vote for Trump. In direct death-throe opposition, there was the 63-year-old New Jersey lady, who wanted—in lieu of flowers—for people to not vote for Trump’s opponent.

From what I can tell from their obituaries, these were all good Americans. They were interested in politics. They wanted others to vote as they did—nothing wrong with that. For the sake of moral obligation, the final views of these souls should be respected—at least to the point of our knowing we are not obligated to agree with their final thoughts or follow their final requests. And with this I stand firm…and I am right and, if you think otherwise, you are wrong, by gawd.

Click here to see the sources for this article.

How to survive like Atlas during our 13 seconds

Thirteen seconds is about how long it takes you to pick up a glass of water from a table and take a couple of sips.

On this May 4 of the year 2020, many of us in the older generation remembered 13 seconds that happened 50 years ago. Those 13 seconds are how long National Guard troops fired on a crowd at Kent State University. Four people were killed; nine people, wounded.

The late ‘60s and early ‘70s spanned an era of activism and awareness-building for our society, as well as incredibly tough, complicated issues. The Vietnam War. Racial inequality. Women’s rights. Gay rights. A crooked president. The environment. Energy crisis. Student strikes. Buildings burned. Passionate speeches. Angry backlashes. Riots. Teargas. People arrested. People shot and killed.

Old Main in 1891. From Colorado State University Archives and Special Collections

Old Main in 1891. From Colorado State University Archives and Special Collections.

In May 1970, I was a journalism student at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. One student demonstration after another culminated on the evening of May 8 with an unknown arsonist setting fire to Old Main, the oldest building on campus. Hundreds of people watched as thick flames consumed the 108-year-old building. People were shocked, silent, as we listened to the relentless knell of flames engulfing the iconic building. People cried.

The red brick building, with its creaky wood floors, drafty class rooms, way too cold in the winter, way too hot in the summer, was a special place for me. The granite slab steps going up to the entrance were deeply worn by footsteps of students long-gone and ones still alive.

One warm spring I went through a semester-long class about Beowulf and other early forms of literature in a second-floor classroom so hot that steady drops of sweat drowned Grendel. I studied classic mythology in Old Main and became good buddies (metaphorically speaking, that is) with Zeus, Athene, Apollo, Venus, and Titans like Atlas. On some late evenings, six-pack of brew in hand, my friends (real people, not gods) and I sneaked into the building and sat on hard, splintery auditorium seats and figured out ways to solve the problems of the world. If only people would listen to us…

Old Main burned on May 8, 1970.

The morning after Old Main burned.

Since then, I’ve often thought that our country’s society is like Atlas holding up a huge globe that represents the heavens. With knees bent, he strains to keep the heavens held high. There are many versions of the Atlas story. The most popular says he was given the punishment by Zeus for leading the Titans in a losing battle against the Olympian Gods for control over the heavens.

In my version of Atlas and his burden, there’s a lot of grunting, moaning, knees and arms wobbling, occasional cursing, sweat flopping everywhere, and sometimes unsteady stutter-steps to rebalance the globe. Atlas is us, the common folk, and the globe is every challenge facing our society. It’s our fate, our burden, if you will, to keep things balanced and make better. If the globe falls, it’s over.

Despite the violence, despite the Kent State bloodshed, despite burned buildings and uncounted numbers of arrests around the nation, the few years before Kent State and a couple after were days of grand optimism. Many people believed they were changing things, making things better. It seemed as if everyone spoke of change. Our lives will be better. America will be better.

And so, generally, in some ways it did become better over the last five decades. Atlas was holding on tight to the globe. Yet, not tight enough. There has remained a dangerous off-kilter tilt, even before coronavirus.

Old Main in flames on May 8, 1970. From Colorado State University Archives and Special Collections.

Old Main in flames on May 8, 1970. From Colorado State University Archives and Special Collections.

Many people are barely making it in our America, despite the fact that we live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. The glass ceiling still exists for women. Me, Too, is righting some wrongs. Environmental progress was made and then abruptly undone over the last three years. Ghettos are still there with poverty, injustice, crime, inequality. Americans with Asian features or dark skin are attacked. Neo-Nazis are increasing in numbers.

Now, in our time of face masks and home quarantine, the knees of Atlas are shaking more than ever. His hold is weakening. These are signs warning us to re-balance. We need to stop attacking each other. We need to support others. We need to stop listening to liars. We need to realize that when a political leader says “fake news,” it’s probably not fake. We need to verify information through credible sources, not Fox News or Facebook or Twitter posts. We need to study candidates for office closely and vote right. We need to grasp the truth of things and act accordingly.

We’re sitting in our own Old Main. Our 13 seconds are ticking. It’s time to tighten our grip on the globe.

It’s our time to deliver help to the Post Office

Benjamin Franklin is probably turning over in his grave.

His beloved postal service is rapidly spiraling toward collapse thanks to embroiled politics, the Internet and coronavirus.

What this may mean to every American: Private vendors buying various parts of a financially strapped postal service, which will likely result in interrupted mail service, higher postal rates, less emphasis on deliveries to rural areas and small towns, fewer delivery days during the week, and patchy service to the 160 million homes and businesses in the United States. In essence, we all could end up saying a sorrowful farewell to the nation’s only universal delivery and communication network that connects all of us and is among the largest employers in all of the 50 states.

Benjamin Franklin—if you don’t recall this from your high school history class—was the postal service’s first postmaster. He believed the service was a vital key to the survival and success of the fledgling United States. He was correct, and the same tenet has held true since the Continental Congress created the service and Franklin was sworn in 245 years ago.

Many Americans incorrectly think the USPS—the United States Postal Service—is a part of the federal government. This is not the case and hasn’t been since 1971 when the USPS was created and began funding itself through its services and products (in other words, no taxpayer money is used to fund the postal service).

With coronavirus upon us, the mail volume has plummeted and is predicted to drop by 50 percent over the coming next year, unfortunately enough to match the steep plunge that happened during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Coupled with that devastating outlook, the USPS has been the victim of irascible politics and other complex issues.

{For more information about these issues, click on the newspaper links at the end of this article. Make sure you read the White Paper by the NALC (National Association of Letter Carriers); it’s the most informative.}

While some Americans may think a USPS collapse is no big deal, just consider that the 640,000 postal workers annually deliver 1.2 billion—that’s “billion,” not million—prescription drug shipments. This is a service that has become more critical in the medical urgency of the coronavirus pandemic.

With that and other tough challenges as the backdrop, the postal service needs help from Americans in convincing congress that it should receive in this economically devastating time of coronavirus the same consideration for financial stimulus presented to airlines, hotels, banks, and other industries. So far, the postal service’s plea to congress has fallen on ears that are deaf or plugged up with the yukky wax of politics.

The way you can help is simple. It takes only a couple of minutes. Click on this link—ACTION NEEDED—and you’ll be taken to a site that provides an easy step-by-step pathway for sending an electronic letter to your congressional representatives and senators. Note: Make sure to include your two senators; the main roadblock has happened in the senate chambers.

By the numbers:

  • The Postal Service adds 4,071 addresses to our delivery network every day.
  • Each day the Postal Service processes and delivers 187.8 million pieces of First-Class Mail.
  • On average, the Postal Service processes 20.2 million mail pieces each hour, 336,649 each minute and 5,611 each second.

Source: One Day in the Life of the U.S. Postal Service


Learn more:

READ THIS: White Paper by NALC. April 8, 2020.

The Postal Service needs a bailout. Congress is partly to blame. July 15, 2020, Washington Post.

What’s an Essential Service in a Pandemic? The Post Office. April 14, 2020, New York Times.

White House rejects bailout for U.S. Postal Service battered by coronavirus. April 11, 2020, Washington Post.


Thomas Paine, Mo Rocca and prettiest girl ever

While my beautiful wife Patty and I have been in isolation like millions worldwide, I’ve made use of my time by contemplating what none of us ever want to think about: one’s own demise.

I’ve also pondered Thomas Paine, a guy named Mo Rocca and my memory of the darn-tootin prettiest girl in the history of the universe.

I decided to pen my own obituary after attending the memorial service of a friend who wrote his own obit. It sounded good, more enjoyable and undoubtedly more accurate than his family could write. He passed away in the early coronavirus days when self-quarantine was not yet a thing

My friend was a writer and I suspect he believed people get too serious in obits, so he decided to write in some fun details—like how his father, an old-time pilot—flew over the family farm, which was snowbound, and dropped a note to let the older children know that their mother had given birth to a son in a nearby city hospital.

Tragically, too many grieving families are now fretting over what to write about their loved ones lost to coronavirus. I’m not planning on catching the illness (no one does), but, just to be safe, I decided time spent on my obit might be a practical gift for those I leave behind.

So, after sighing, contemplating, sighing again, I got off to a stellar start, inserting the “?” at strategic spots where facts are yet to be determined: Gary Kimsey died on _?_ at _?_. He was _?_ years old. During his life, he….

My brain power suddenly drained away at the “he….” Sigh. Which of my great deeds should I record? Sigh. The time I almost died from exhaustion from going on a long hike without taking enough water? Or the time when I was six years old and I learned maybe it’s not a good idea to roll around in a mud puddle with your Sunday school clothes on? Or perhaps my great discovery of two arrowheads in our backyard (my kids thought it was pretty neat) or—more sighing—maybe I should just make up stuff?

After destroying too many brain cells pondering how great Gary Kimsey should have been in life, I moved on to a book, Mobituaries, by Mo Rocca, a correspondent on CBS Sunday Morning. Mo—he seems like a guy okay with being called by his first name—updated obituaries “for great lives worth reliving.” Maybe Mo’s obits could give me ideas for making my life great in my obit.

I’m an occasional nonfiction reader (give me a good ol’ thriller novel instead), but my uncannily patient friend Jerry Kelsey, who has miraculously put up with me since we attended high school together in the late 1960s, had kept saying the word Mobituaries to me since the book was published in late 2019.

So, just to appease the Kelsey chap, I finally decided to get it on my Kindle. I checked Amazon and then asked myself, “Is Mo really worth paying $14.99?”

Well, shucks not. I suspected Mo would squander my $14.99 on a lavish lifestyle.

On the local free library website, I discovered (hey, maybe I can use this discovery in my obit?) that Mo’s a popular dude. However, I had to wait 10 weeks because so many people were in the online checkout line ahead of me.

Eventually Mobituaries arrived on my Kindle. Unfortunately, the library lets people check out online books only for 21 days. Yesterday, ye gads, I discovered (hey, a discovery for my obit?) that 20 days had swept by. I had yet to read a Mo word. So hurriedly I decided to read at least some, lest the Kelsey gent makes an inquiry.

One of Mo’s obits was about Thomas Paine, the fellow who wrote Common Sense, which got Americans jazzed up about fighting the Brits. Paine led a hero’s life gone misunderstood. His story—as told by Mo—is something we never learned in high school history class.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

I was surprised to discover (ah, another discovery for my obit) that Mr. Paine coined the sentence “These are the times that try men’s souls” so often used today.

I blame my learning oversight on the snoozy style of my high school history teacher. Lest you think otherwise, my oversight had nothing to do with keeping close attention on the pretty girl at the nearby desk, right? Now, a half-century later, I recall she was certainly very, very pretty, but have no idea what she looked like. Or her name. Or the color of her hair. Or, I wonder now, was she a figment of my teenage imagination, a distraction to keep from snoring in history class?

Anyway, let’s put that aside way aside and go back to Mr. Paine’s sentence: He wrote it to describe stuff Americans faced around the time of the Revolutionary War. I hope, but am uncertain, that when he penned “men’s” he also meant women had souls that could be tried, too.

Today, Mr. Paine’s sentence can easily be used to reflect what’s happening in the world. This time of coronavirus indeed tries our individual and collective soul. Infection rates continue to soar. Deaths are so plentiful that some stressed communities are storing caskets of loved ones in refrigerated trucks until something can be done with them. No end is in sight.

In the inevitable end—as leaders have promised—we will have muddled through this. Revolutionary Americans survived. So shall we.

Fanny Brice

Fanny Brice circa 1930

Meanwhile, I found Mobituaries to be an engaging book structured so the reader can skip around hither and tither. After reading Mo’s obits about dragons and Paine today, I swiped across my Kindle screen to the story of Fanny Brice, the early 20th century singer, comedienne and inspiration for Barbara Streisand’s 1968 film Funny Girl.

I got as far as “Fanny’s troubled love life was…” when the library very rudely and very abruptly snapped away my online book, leaving me screeching, “What? What? What was her troubled love life?” My 21 days had expired.

I hurried to the online library to check out the book again, only to discover (hey, another discovery) that it wouldn’t be available for checkout again for at least two months.

Two months! Two months? What about Fanny’s troubled love life?

Amazon’s $14.99 looks pretty good right now, even if I am supporting Mo in a life of what could become decadence, debauchery and debasement.

Meanwhile: Gary Kimsey died on _?_ at _?_. He was _?_ years old. During his life, he made great discoveries, like Mo being a popular dude, 21 days go by fast, Tommy Paine wrote that thing, takes forever to check out a good book, and the prettiest girl in the universe may only be a figment.

Well, dagnabbit, that’s a hoot of an obit, ain’t it?

Larry Steward’s story, the obit that he wrote himself

Note from Gary Kimsey, who edited this story: Larry Steward was a journalist and educator who inspired hundreds of students when he taught photography at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, and as the general manager of the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, comprised of CSU’s newspaper, magazine, and radio and TV stations. Larry passed away March 4 after almost four years of battling ALS, a terminal motor neuron disease that gradually robs patients of their strength and control and ultimately leads death. 

Larry was shy about talking about himself to others. So, many of his friends and colleagues today know only a few details about his younger years. With that realization in mind, Larry penned the following story about himself (I added in the artwork and cutlines). He wrote this article in the style of an obituary, using the third-person voice (“he” and “his,” for instance) rather than first-person.

I met Larry in 1971 when I was editor of the Rocky Mountain Collegian, CSU’s student newspaper. He became my news editor and then, when he was editor the next school year, I was his news editor. We became lifelong friends and spent many days over the years fishing in the Cache la Poudre River in northern Colorado—and he always caught the most trout.

The following story that he wrote about himself is more than obituary. It’s a story about a remarkable life of creativity, humor, dedication, optimism, exuberance, and love at first sight, twice. Enjoy reading it!


Photo by Greg Luft

His given name was Lawrence Eugene, but for the first 19 years of his life everyone called him Corky. That’s because when his father, Earl, first saw his son, he said he looked like a “corker” and the name just stuck.

Corky was born on November 18, 1946, during a massive blizzard that closed roads, businesses and schools for more than a week. At that time the Steward family was living on a farm in a remote area of southeastern Colorado, so his brothers and sister did not learn of his birth until Earl flew over their farm in his Piper Cub airplane and dropped a little parachute with the message that declared the family had a new baby boy. Corky was born prematurely so he had to be transferred by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in Denver where his first month of life was spent in an incubator.

The isolation on the farm turned out to be too much for his mother, Annabelle, so the family moved to nearby Lamar in the spring of 1948.  The house they moved into had been a U.S. Post Office that Earl had moved onto a foundation from Hasty, Colorado, a nearby small town. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom home created a real challenge for bathroom time and other space for a family of seven.

But city life was marred by Annabelle’s persistent and debilitating high blood pressure and migraine headaches. To mitigate Annabelle’s illnesses, Corky and his older sister, Patricia, and brothers, Richard (Dick), John Robert, and Linden Michael, were sometimes not permitted in the house to avoid complications for their mother.

In 1953, the family’s physician urged Annabelle to have experimental surgery in hopes of reducing her blood pressure and migraines, which had elevated to dangerous levels. After much prodding, Annabelle decided to have the surgery in Denver but, after the procedure, she died from complications of a blood clot.

Larry’s self-portrait from 1972. Larry enjoyed drawing cartoons, and he was very good at it. While still in high school in Lamar, Colo., he drew weekly cartoons for the Lamar Daily News.

Earl, overcome with grief, turned to his daughter, Pat, and her husband, Bill Waldrip, and asked them to care for Mike, who was 11, and Corky, who was 7. The newly formed family lived in the Lamar area for nearly a year before moving to La Junta, Colorado, where Bill worked as an airplane mechanic. The airport was a former World War II U.S. Army Air Force base that was turned over to civilian control after the war.

The former airbase had decommissioned World War II fighter aircraft and bombers in the hangers that had been abandoned by the military after the war. Pat and Bill and the boys lived in what had been officers’ quarters. The location turned out to be a boys’ playground paradise, and the boys spent many hours playing in the old airplane and on the grounds of the airbase.

Since the airport in La Junta where Bill worked was four miles outside of town, Mike and Corky took a bus to and from school. Sister Pat loved to tell a story about the time Corky was “goofing around” after school and missed the school bus. Pat said she became quite worried when Mike showed up at the bus stop but Corky was nowhere to be found. The way she told the story, when she finally discovered Corky walking home, his eyes lit up expecting his sister to give him a ride the rest of the way home, she told him “next time, get yourself to the bus stop on time!” She then turned the car around and sped away, leaving her youngest brother to walk the rest of the way home. “He sure as heck never missed the bus again,” she liked to say with a mischievous smile.

In 1955-56, Earl courted and later married Othel (Wright) Conklin, who was widowed following the death of her first husband, Kermit. After Earl and Othel were married and with the addition of Othel’s two children, Dave and Karen, the blended family now numbered nine, but since Dave Conklin and Dick Steward were out of the household nest, the competition for resources wasn’t as intense as it might seem.

Corky and Mike moved back to their Lamar home during the summer of 1956.


In school, Corky participated in band, theater, and dabbled in sports, including football, track and wrestling. He also loved to draw cartoons as a hobby, and during his junior year in high school, Corky was hired as a cartoonist for the Lamar Daily News. He drew a weekly cartoon strip and, less frequently, editorial cartoons.

One of Larry’s cartoons from his days at the Rocky Mountain Collegian. He drew this cartoon in 1972 when Richard Nixon was running for re-election and the scandalous activities of Vice President Spiro Agnew were not yet widely known. Nixon, though, had plenty of problems of his own doing to deal with.

The news editor, Fred Betz, Jr., involved Corky in all aspects of newspaper operations, including photography, selling advertising, and the newspaper design.

After he was graduated from Lamar Union high school in 1964, Corky attended Lamar community college and Eastern Montana College in Billings on a journalism scholarship and worked summers as a lifeguard in Lamar and later as a swimming pool manager in Holly, Colorado.

During this time, the U.S. was becoming deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War, and in 1966, Corky faced a major decision: either join the military or be drafted. Since voluntary enlistment meant he could choose a military occupation rather than being assigned to the infantry, he enlisted and, after basic training, attended the U.S. Army photography school.

He joined the Army on the “buddy plan” with Dan Scriven, his life-long chum and next door neighbor, but one day after they entered basic training the pair were separated (so much for the buddy plan).

Once he was in the Army, Corky made the immediate transformation to Larry (or, “Hey, maggot!”) since no drill sergeant would call him “Corky.” Going forward, only family and Lamarites would ever refer to him using his childhood nickname.

Larry did well in basic training. He was named a squad leader and later selected as the outstanding trainee of his company. Following basic, Larry attended photography school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he graduated as one of the top students in the photography class.

Patriotism: Larry with medals awarded to him when he was in the military.

After photography school, he was sent to South Vietnam. He was assigned to the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion Aerial Reconnaissance service in Da Nang, Saigon, and finally Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. Within four months of his arrival in Vietnam, he was awarded an Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal, and was promoted to Specialist 5th Class (the equivalent rank of Sergeant).

After leaving Vietnam, he was assigned as the senior television cameraman and a member of a 16-mm film crew at the Medical Field Service School television station at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where he remained until he received an honorable discharge in June 1969 to attend classes at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

At CSU, he initially majored in fisheries biology, then graphic arts and finally journalism and technical communication. During his time at CSU, he worked at the Rocky Mountain Collegian in a number of positions before becoming the editor-in-chief during fall 1972 and spring 1973. He also worked at the student radio station, KCSU; served as a volunteer for the Silver Spruce Yearbook and made extra money as a 16-mm film stringer for two Denver television stations.

After he was graduated in 1973, he worked as a photographer, reporter, columnist, and section editor for the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper. While at the Coloradoan, he was honored by the Colorado press Association for his reporting.


He met his first wife, Suzanne Lois Hembree, while at the Rocky Mountain Collegian when she came to the newspaper office to drop off a press release. She and Larry chatted for quite a while. As soon as Suzanne left the office, Larry turned to a nearby co-worker and announced, “That’s the woman I’m going to marry.” There’s no other way to describe it: It was love at first sight.

It turned out, however, that Larry would have to wait because his roommate, Don Skitt, was dating Suzanne at that time, so he had to wait until Don and Suzanne broke up. Larry then made his move and asked Suzanne out on a date. The first date was the day Suzanne completed her finals so when he went to pick her up at her apartment, he knocked on the door several times, unaware that she had been so exhausted that a glass of wine put her to sleep. After being stood up, Larry swore he would never ask her out again. Well, love overcame stubbornness. They were married 15 months later.

Larry said he was attracted to Suzanne because of her quick wit and many puns, her sense of humor, and her engaging personality. They were married on November 24, 1975, in Fort Collins at St. John the 23rd Church.

After living in Fort Collins for the first four years of their marriage, they moved to Denver where Suzanne gave birth to the couple’s first child, Jeffrey Lawrence, in September 1980, and to their second child, Jennifer Honorine, in February 1982.

Suzanne and Larry remained married until Suzanne’s death from cancer March 8, 1985.

In December 1986, Larry returned to CSU after he was hired as general manager of the student media department. In 1989, Larry was graduated with an MBA from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

During his tenure as general manager, Larry was recognized by a number of professional organizations and served on several student media professional organizations, including being twice elected as VP and president of the Western Association of University publication managers, a prestigious organization representing large university media managers.

Larry also taught classes in photojournalism, digital photography and business communication for the Journalism and Media Communications department at CSU.


In April 2002, Larry met Janet Lewis-Jordan, who was working as a dental management consultant for a large national firm. They hit it off great right away and, as he had experienced almost three decades earlier, Larry knew immediately that this was once again love at first sight. Janet and Larry were married in August 2003 at the Danforth Chapel on the CSU campus, and they spent their remaining years together in love and very grateful for each other.

Larry and Janet Steward.

Larry retired from the university in August 2004 to help Janet start her own dental management consulting corporation, Steward and Associates, which eventually evolved into Janet Steward Consulting.

In 2008, Larry became the organizing executive and the president of the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, a not-for-profit organization closely affiliated with CSU. The not-for-profit employed 250 students and more than 100 student volunteers in the operation of the daily student newspaper, the campus radio station, cable TV, and campus magazine. He remained as president and CEO at the RMSMC until his retirement in July 2015, when his as-of-yet undiagnosed illness began to take its toll.


Several years prior to his retirement from the RMSMC, Larry began to notice fatigue and weakness in his arms and hands. After many months working out in an attempt to regain his strength, Larry finally figured out that what was going on was not normal and started the medical journey to find out why. In September 2016, he finally was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal motor neuron disease that gradually robs patients of their strength and control and ultimately leads death.

The adventurer: Larry, back in his 30s, coming out of an old mine that he explored in Hewlett Gulch in the Poudre Canyon. Larry loved hiking with Janet and their two dogs, Jack and Teddy; fly-fishing; salt-water fishing; biking; and photography.

Despite the death sentence that comes with ALS, Larry maintained a very positive attitude and lived his life as someone who looked for the positive rather than the negative related to his debilitating disease. Janet was close by his side every step of the way, becoming a care-provider whose goal was to make his life as comfortable and pleasant as possible.

Larry passed away at home on March, 4, 2020. He is survived by his loving wife, Janet; his son, Jeffrey, and his wife, Thuy, and their daughter, Annie; daughter Jennifer and her husband, Jeremy, and their son, William; his stepdaughter, Lee-Ann and her husband Rick Castro, their son, Tyler, and daughter, Mckenna; his stepson, Alistair Jordan and his wife, Kimberly; and numerous nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews.


Note: The “–30–“ is a symbol that Larry and other journalists back in the day typed in (using typewriters, of all things!) to show that their story has ended.

How I spent my 70th birthday

January 29, 2020—how in the holy heck of hell’s bells tinkerbells did this day arrive so quickly?

The age of 70 is something that happens to old guys, not young whippersnappers like me.

For most of us, birthdays—even milestone ones like, gag and yuk, 70—are usually routine days in the routine times of our routine lives. Maybe a party is in store. Or a special dinner. Or some gifts.

Pretty much, though, we pass through the day without much thought to where we’ve been or where we are now. Every birthday, however, should be coveted as more than the routine of life. We’ve made it another year. We’ve conquered the calendar again. We’re still breathing. We’re still moving, loving, enjoying, although probably much slower than we did at age 18.

My first thought this morning: Why, it was just yesterday when my friends Richard Hutchcroft and Brad Thomas and I sped across the Missouri state line and into Kansas so we could drink beer at the Anchor Bar, a sleazy 3.2 joint in Kansas City, Kansas.

That was on the night of my 18th birthday and we went Kansas-bound because in the state of Missouri, where the three of us lived in Independence, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., the drinking age was 21. In Kansas, it was 18. Richard had turned 18 years old just 27 days earlier but had been partaking of Anchor Bar brew for a while before then. So had Brad who, well, was just a kid who wouldn’t 18 until February.

Today, the good thing about turning so mature (hey, no way I’m saying “so old”) is that everyone pays due homage to you. They all have great respect for your age and accumulated wisdom, you know, and they revere you. Right?

Ah, gosh, early this morning I received this text from my nephew Ron West:

“Happy birthday! So how does it feel being so old? When you were young, the Dead Sea was just sick. Dinosaurs roamed the earth. You’re old enough to remember when emojis were called hieroglyphics. But don’t worry. Your doctor says everything is normal for your age; of course, dying is normal for your age. Ouch! You are so old you get nostalgic over Neolithic cave paintings. OK, one more: Aging gracefully is just a way of saying you are slowly looking worse. Hope you have a nice birthday!”

Well, what can you say? Ron is 13 years my junior; he’ll eventually get to this point. So I’m saving his text to return to him then.

And there you have it, a portrait at age 70, cherry pie at the Englewood Cafe.

I started off today in sort of a routine way. A friend, Jerry Herman, is staying with us in Independence for a few days from his North Carolina home. Jerry, who my lovely, good-humored wife Patty and I went to high school with in Independence, came to see his mother, who is in an assisted living home.

This morning Jerry and I went to a local Denny’s Restaurant to have breakfast with a bunch of guys I call the Breakfast Boys. Most are retired. Among them is Richard Hutchcroft, my old (er, my mature) friend from the Anchor Bar run.

Except for me, the Breakfast Boys are all Trump supporters and they are occasionally prone to speak less than kindly about those worthless Democrats, those damned liberals, those…Well, you get the picture.

I know for certain, if I had been back in Colorado today—where Patty and I live in the warm months of the year—and I took to breakfasting with local Breakfast Boys there, theirs would be pithy comments about worthless Republicans, that damned Trump…. Colorado is more liberal than Missouri—how’s that for a broad, fact-free generalization? You know, of course, that I can get away with such generalizations. After all, I am of a more mature age today.

I’m at an age where I appreciate people’s different views on such things as religion and politics. I take it all in stride, figuring that on such topics I’m not going to change anyone’s opinions. And, frankly, it doesn’t make much difference to me what people think. I’m at the more mature age where I know that for me the most important view to pay attention to is my own opinion. In other words, my opinion is right and yours is blaaaaaaa … imagine my tongue and lips rapidly flapping as I scoff out a raspberry. I can do stuff like that now and people just excuse it by blaming it on my more mature age.

I wanted to eat at Denny’s this morning because breakfast is free for a customer whose birthday it is. I tried to order my usual—boring, bland oatmeal—but the waitress informed me that for a free breakfast I had to order “Build Your Own Grand Slam”—four breakfast items from the menu. So I had eggs, bacon, hash browns, and buttermilk pancakes. I put on five pounds of carbs and fat by the time I finished and belched. Us more mature guys can belch any time and any where we want.

Throughout the day I received happy-birthday texts, Messenger messages, Facebook posts, Facetime calls, or emails from my daughter and son, and from friends, some just barely younger than I am; others, decades younger. Their missives were all sweet and fun. This was a day when I reflected on how fortunate I am to have such friends and relatives.

One text came from a friend who is just a young whippersnapper himself. Jerry Kelsey—he’ll be 70 this year—and I played on our high school’s basketball team back in the day, along with Richard. Our team had the distinction of setting the Kansas City School District record for scoring the lowest number of points (26) in a game; our opponent in the game set the record for scoring the highest number of points (118) in all of the school district’s history. Our respective record-setting scores were posted for years and years and years up on a wall board at the fieldhouse where all of the Kansas City teams played. The record still stands, unfortunately, as far as I know. When you get old—I mean, more mature—you fondly gaze back on medals, awards or recognition you’ve received over the many years. In my case, 26 to 118 is a recognition scrawled in indelible ink on the thin parchment of my memory.

Jerry Kelsey’s text: “Congratulations on another trip around the sun. Notables sharing your special day: Tom Selleck, Oprah and Adam Lambert. If you had the looks, money and eye shadow of those three I could say I knew you when I could run and dribble a basketball off my foot at the same time.”

Jill Clark, a young lady I worked with before retiring in 2014, sent this text: “Happy Birthday, Master Kimsey! How are you celebrating today? I hope it may involve a nap, a book, a good movie, and some cheap but delicious beer. Cheers to you!”

Now, I don’t know how Ms. Clark knew my routine so accurately but she pretty much described every day for me, including birthdays. Please understand, it’s tough being retired. Even on your birthday, you have to decide whether to get up in the morning and wait a while before taking a nap…or, instead, just pull the covers back up again and take a nap. After all, why waste energy getting out of bed?

Patty, who I’ve known since we were 13 (we met the year JFK was assassinated), asked what I would like to do on my birthday. I’m sure she envisioned my answer would involve going to a good movie, reading a book, napping, and/or drinking cheap but probably not delicious beer (hmmm, I wonder if she’s ever mentioned my routine to Ms. Jill Clark?). Or—Patty secretly may have hoped—a nice dinner at an overly expensive plush restaurant that has white tablecloths, lemon slices in the water and snooty waiters with noses stuck so high in the air that you can see their nose hair and—again, gag and yuk—other things.

To answer Patty’s inquiry, I blurted out: “I want to go to Englewood Café for a piece of cherry pie.”

I hadn’t been there for more than a year and I was long overdue for cherry pie. In case you didn’t know it, cherry pie is a well-known elixir that will restore you to a less mature time of your life.

For those of you who don’t live in Independence, the Englewood Café is one of those classic decades-old greasy spoons where blue-collar workers and your parents and grandparents hang out. My parents dined there almost every day in the last years of their lives.

The décor is simple. There is a big picture of Marilyn Monroe hanging on one grayish wall. On the back counter are pictures of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. The counter has space for nine stools—the padding on the tops don’t all match and two stools are missing. The swinging door into the kitchen is so worn in the area pushed by the hands of waitresses that the paint is gone and the area is now blackish brown. Meanwhile, tile squares on the floor are chipped and well-worn by countless shoes stepping on them. To the café’s credit, however, all the tables and booths appear to be level. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating. We only sat at one table.

The daily specials are written on a chalkboard. Today: Corned beef hash, 2 eggs, HB (hash browns), toast—$6.79. Hot tenderloin sandwich (you also get breaded tomatoes, corn and green beans)—$6.59.

Gollygeewiz, it’s hard to beat those prices.

My quest, though, was cherry pie. The list of pies is scrawled on another chalkboard hanging on the back counter. Today, there were 11 types of pies offered. Pies are baked elsewhere and are delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays. So you have to get there on those days or immediately the next day to have a good selection before this or that type of pie runs out.

One cherry pie for me (including a big scoop of ice cream), one coconut cream for Patty, a coffee for each of us. Total: $12.36.

As we ate, we eavesdropped on a waitress, who was in her forties, quizzing a customer sitting at the counter. He was an old guy—that is, definitely more mature than me—and she was trying to help him remember where he misplaced his cell phone. Finally, she said she didn’t want him to go around phone-less so she promised to take him to get a new phone. This is the type of place the Englewood Café is—waitresses go out of their way to help customers, especially mature regulars who sometimes may have difficulty helping themselves.

My cell phone rang—this happened moments after I had checked to make sure I hadn’t indeed misplaced my phone, too—and the caller was Bruce Horovitz.

Bruce is the best writer I know. He is a genius at turning a phrase; he makes wonderful poetry out of words and sentences that other writers only make dull. I’ve known Bruce since we worked at the same college newspaper. He became a long-time business reporter for USA Today until the newspaper offered a buyout about three years ago. He was outa there in a flash but is still writing, now stuff that he wants to write. He said over the phone that he has added a new twist to his life: volunteering to help the needy in his hometown of Falls Church, Va.

Years ago Bruce related an interesting personal story about how he met his wife Evelyn, a gracious and kindly lady. I couldn’t quite recall all of the details, so today I asked Bruce to again tell me the story so I could pass it on to Patty, who enjoys hearing romantic stories.

Bruce was vacationing in Copenhagen and just happened to meet a beautiful young lady outside of a castle. They conversed a bit and then each went on their own way. As sometimes happens with tourists moving about in the same touristy areas, they kept running into each other that day.

The next morning Bruce went into a coffee shop and from somewhere behind him came a woman’s voice: “Bruce.”

He says he knew two things at that very moment. First, he wondered who in the hell knew him in a foreign country where he hardly knew anyone. Second, he was captivated by the voice.

“It had such a musical lilt that I knew that’s the woman I was going to marry,” he told me today.

He turned around and happily discovered that it was the voice of Evelyn, who just happened to be in the same coffee shop. Yes, they did marry, and now they have two daughters: one in college, the other in high school.

At the end of the afternoon today, Patty’s daughter, Amy Broughton, came by with, among other things, a sack full of birthday gifts from World Market, a place that offers exotic items: a big bag of popcorn popped in coconut oil and seasoned with pink salt from the Himalayas; waffle caramels; and chocolate-covered dates. Patty’s other daughter, Kelly Teegarden, mailed me a box of tasty Bateel dates stuffed with almonds, hazel nuts, pistachios, and dried orange rinds. They came in a fancy metal box. I think Kelly sent me this gift not so much for the dates but for the nifty box—she knows I like boxes (and that’s a story for another day).

So, this was my day, my birthday, the Big 70. How was your day?


Thanksgiving: What’s fact, what’s fiction

For most American families, the Thanksgiving holiday is abundant with good cheer, good food, a wonderfully smelling roasted turkey, family and friends, maybe a football game on the TV, and a great sense that all is well in the world. It’s a time to enjoy, relax, reflect, and express thanks.

When I was a kid—just like youngsters of today still do—we cut out the shapes of turkeys and Pilgrim hats from colored paper and decorated walls of the classroom. Back then, as now, Thanksgiving was a grand marketing opportunity for advertisements featuring clean, well-dressed Pilgrims and Native Americans happily eating dinner at a long table covered by a white tablecloth.

What the Mayflower may have looked like when it set sail for the New World. Note the supply of apples in the lower left corner. The fruit and vegetable supplies soon ran out and the crew and passengers came down with scurvy. Painting by Bernard Gribble

It wasn’t until I was an adult in my later years that I became interested in genealogy and discovered I am the descendant of six colonists who came to America on the Mayflower: William Brewster and his son Love Brewster; Richard Warren; William Mullins and his daughter, Priscilla, age 18 when they set sail; and John Alden, who married Priscilla not long after her father and step-mother, Alice, died shortly after reaching America.

Back then, the population of Europeans along our Eastern seaboard was severely limited; in fact, almost nonexistent outside of the Mayflower settlers and a few others at small colonies scattered long distances away along the coast.

As a result, a fair amount of intermingling of Plymouth families occurred during the first few generations, this among the original Mayflower families and others who later immigrated there. By the fourth generation, the intermingling produced a lady named Janet Murdock, who married my ancestor Stephen Tilson, whose English grandparents immigrated to Plymouth shortly after they were married in 1625.

After discovering this ancestral tie to the Plymouth colonists, I puffed myself up and thought, “Well, hey, this is pretty neat! I must be a very special guy, having come from such special ancestors.”

Self-aggrandized as I had suddenly become, I probably should’ve let things alone. But…I decided to find out how many Mayflower descendants are alive today. I expected maybe a couple of dozen, if that. After all, those Pilgrim people lived a long, long time ago. There couldn’t be many descendants alive today. Gosh, I mused to myself, I really am special!

Well, uh, as I discovered on the Internet, the estimated numbers are 10 million descendants in the U.S. and 35 million worldwide. Some descendants comprise notable figures in American history. Among John and Priscilla Alden’s descendants, for example, are U.S. Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams; poet William Wadsworth Longfellow; Julia Child, chef, author and TV personality; and actors Orson Welles, Raquel Welch, Dick Van Dyke, and Marilyn Monroe.

Here’s an interesting point to consider: The nation’s public schools have about 50 million enrolled students this year. The 10 million Mayflower descendants in the U.S. means that in any given public school classroom today, which usually have about 30 students, give or take, there may be at least one or two students related back to the Mayflower folks. Most kids, unfortunately, don’t know it. Nor do their parents.

All of this is a roundabout way of getting to a couple of topics. First, I want to encourage people to delve into their own ancestral past. It’s amazing what could be found there—maybe kings or queens, or perhaps inventors or great authors, or maybe a famous outlaw or soldier, or a Pilgrim or two. Second, my interest in genealogy has encouraged me to learn many things about history that I once never imagined I would find interesting. Case in point: the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. I’ve done considerable research and reading since learning that my ancestral line, on my mother’s side, is connected to the Pilgrims.

One of the important things I discovered: The arrival of the Mayflower and its 102 passengers and their survival in America comprise one of our nation’s most important historical events (and yet—just a side note here—very little attention is given to telling their real story in the curriculum of our public schools).

It’s a story of bravery, grit, determination, optimism, and great faith. The themes behind the adventure cover about every literary genre one can think of: humans against nature, love of fellow beings and the land, the demands of sacrifice, overcoming major challenges, a quest for religious freedom, and, among others, the bold search for something better.

In the fall of 1620, 102 Mayflower passengers and crew—there were about 30 crew members—spent 66 tough, nearly unbearable days on the tiny ship, often amid terrible storms and big terrifying waves. The ship was 80 feet long and 24 feet wide (in comparison, a tennis court is 78 feet long and 36 feet wide).

Rough seas for the Mayflower.

One terrifying storm cracked a massive wood beam that supported the ship’s frame. This had the potential to leave the ship stuck drifting at sea. Fortunately, the passengers had in their supplies and equipment a large iron screw mechanism that they used to help raise the beam back into place. In another storm, a young passenger was swept off the deck. He was saved only because he had the presence of mind to grab one of the ship’s lines so he could be pulled back on deck. One crew member, who had taunted the passengers over their seasickness, died during the voyage—the passengers saw this as a sign from God, the sailor’s punishment for being so cruel.

Passengers were required to spend most of their time in a deck below. They squeezed into thin-walled, cramped great cabins with low ceilings (you had to hunker down if you were more than five feet tall). Each passenger had living space about the size of today’s single bed, if that.

Imagine the body smells—no deodorant, no clean clothes, no showers or baths. Imagine the lack of privacy when it came time to do your personal business. Imagine weathering bad storms, not knowing if the old clinker of a ship would sink at any moment. Imagine the snoring at night. Imagine…well, you get the point.

It wasn’t a fun trip. Lousy food. Poor water. Short tempers. The supplies of vegetables and fruit soon gave out, resulting in a lack of vitamin C and then scurvy. Gums bled. Teeth fell out. Breaths stank. Colds, fevers and coughs were easily passed around due to the cramped quarters. Soon, everyone was sick. All in all, a trip you wouldn’t want to make, never, ever.

When they reached America and finally stepped on shore, this on Nov. 13, 1620, the first thing some of them did was consume raw blue mussels abundant along the shoals during low tide. They must have sighed with great relief—finally, finally fresh food—oh, joy!

And then, their hungers satisfied, the violent vomiting and diarrhea set in from shellfish poisoning.

Imagine that, too. You somehow manage to survive more than two horrible months on the dreadful ocean and the first thing you eat on shore is so toxic you feel like you want to die. This, by the way, is one of those stories you don’t hear in school.

Another usually untold story relates to the makeup of the passengers. There were 50 men, 19 women and 33 young adults and children. Most Americans today believe they were all Pilgrims. However, only 41 were. The rest were what the Pilgrims called the “Strangers”—non-members of the Pilgrims’ religious sect: hired hands, farmers, servants, and children, four of whom were indentured servants, given over to the Pilgrims by their parents before the Mayflower set sail.

The Pilgrim’s religious sect believed its congregation should be separate from the Church of England, thus the basic reason for seeking refuge in the New World. Back home in Europe, they were threatened by jail time or worse (and, in fact, William Brewster once was jailed for his religious beliefs). The Pilgrims were the first refugees to step on our soil—and, comparing the trials and tribulations of today’s refugees seeking to enter the U.S., they didn’t have to do complicated legal wrangling or sneak in by digging a hole under a border wall.

Many Americans believe the first landing was at Plymouth. It wasn’t. The first on-shore steps—the place of the eating of the blue mussels—happened at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. It was in there, too, in a lower deck of the Mayflower, that 41 adult males signed the Mayflower Compact, a document of about 200 words. This was the earliest document that called for self-governance in America even though, under the terms of the compact, they would remain loyal to England’s King James.

Today, Americans generally believe—if they know about it at all—that the Mayflower Compact originated because all of the settlers were in gentlemanly accord on governance issues. The truth is, the Pilgrims drafted the document because the Strangers were ready to revolt and go out on their own. The Strangers were angry because the Mayflower had sailed beyond the jurisdiction of where the colony was supposed to be located. The Pilgrims saw that splitting up the small number of colonists would likely have ended in disaster; the larger number of 102 at least gave hope for success. So Pilgrim leaders drafted the Mayflower Compact as a way to quell the conflict and maintain peace.

Signing of the Mayflower Compact. From Library of Congress.

A month later, the Mayflower arrived at a settlement site the voyagers named Plimouth (the spelling later become “Plymouth”) after the port city from where they sailed away from England. Plymouth was the wrong place, however. The colonists had a patent to settle at the Hudson River near Manhattan, which was part of the Colony of Virginia at the time. They missed the mark due to irascible winds, storms and dangerous shoals. Nonetheless, the ship’s commander decided the passengers were too sick and frail to sail on to the site where they were supposed to settle, so, in essence, he announced to them, “This is it, folks, all out”—my words, not his, but the sentiment is the same: Like it or not, here’s where we stop!

Myth has it that the colonists stepped upon Plymouth Rock as they disembarked. There is, however, no historical accounts or facts that back up this long-held assumption.

Myth has it that the Pilgrims took their first steps on land on top of Plymouth Rock. There are no historical accounts or facts to back up this assumption.

Another typically untold story is the tragic circumstance through which the Pilgrims and Strangers were lucky enough to settle on land previously cleared by Native Americans. Upon the Mayflower’s arrival in the Plymouth bay, there were no natives to be seen in the area, only mysterious scatterings of bleached human skulls and bones. Regardless of the carnage that appeared to have taken place there in the not-so-distant past, the Pilgrims considered the vacant land to be a miracle, a true gift from God.

Unbeknown to the Mayflower voyagers, the new homeland was littered with the aftermath of a holocaust. Large numbers of natives—thousands upon thousands, possibly 90 percent of them—died from 1616 to 1619 along the Atlantic seaboard from what is believed to be bubonic plague brought ashore by European fishermen.

Many of us, by the way, incorrectly think only a few Europeans visited America prior to the Mayflower’s arrival. In reality, an estimated 300 ships a year fished for cod off the northern East Coast. Sailors often visited natives to trade and mingle. Such interactions didn’t always turn out well for the natives. Case in point: the bubonic epidemic for which the natives had no antibodies. As the plague progressed along the coast, so many natives died that no one—like those at the site of the new colony—was left to bury the dead.

The first year for the settlers was nearly disastrous. Half of the 102 colonists died from sickness and malnutrition. Many survivors were left like Priscilla Mullins. One day her parents and brother were alive, and then they were dead, leaving her in an untamed land with little hope of returning to the civilization of Europe.

Miles Standish (left) looks on as Priscilla Mullins and John Alden are on their bridal procession.

Priscilla’s dire situation, I imagine, helped in her decision to marry John Alden. A marriage of convenience, perhaps, no doubt? It’s hard to say. Today, Priscilla and John are probably the most well-known of the colonists, thanks to a narrative poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish, published in 1858 by one of their descendants, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose works are still studied today in colleges. In the poem, Miles Standish asks John Alden to speak on Standish’s behalf to the single Priscilla. He does and Priscilla replied, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” So he did and they married. A good lesson for all of us: Never ask anyone else to proclaim your love to another!

Anyway, the Thanksgiving story that we hold near and dear today is true in some ways and pure fiction in other ways. Parts of the modern story were created by marketing experts who saw ideal opportunities for selling more food, merchandise, cars, and other retail products during the Thanksgiving holiday.

One part of today’s telling of the colonists’ story is true. Some natives did help the colonists at times, showing them, for example, how to cultivate corn, catch fish, remove sap from maple trees, and avoid poisonous plants. Even with the help, it was still definitely touch and go for the settlers. They had to rely on their own initiative, their rapidly developing skills, hard work, luck, and, as they believed, the intervention of God

Many of the colonists had to develop new skills to meet the challenging intricacies of farming and building shelters. William Mullins—Priscilla’s father—may have been somewhat unprepared. He was a shoemaker by trade.  He brought along 126 pairs of shoes and 13 pairs of boots—the sign of a true entrepreneur when it came to retail merchandising. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to wear out even one pair on the soil of the New World. He died within four months of reaching America.

The name “Thanksgiving” wasn’t used by the Pilgrims as we use it today to mark the annual holiday. They believed a thanksgiving was a time of devotion and spiritual thought. In the 170 years after the Pilgrims’ arrival, there were often festivals of harvest in the fall throughout the American territories. The concept of an official Thanksgiving celebration originated in 1789 with a proclamation by George Washington. After that, a designated day of thanksgiving was honored on and off until it became a federal holiday during the Civil War. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists celebrated their first harvest with feasting that probably took place in late September or October rather than late November. The event was also a celebration to give thanks that they survived their first year in the New World. Within that first year, half of the colonists had perished from disease and malnutrition. That included 78 percent of the women.

This First Thanksgiving—as we call it today—was a three-day event. The local sachem (it’s a native name for “leader”) Massasoit and 90 to 100 members of the Pokanoket, a local tribe that in 1621 began interacting with the colonists, participated in the celebration. Historians are unsure why the natives were in the area. Massasoit’s village was a three-day walk away. The end of the harvest season may have been a time when he and his group made rounds to visit other native tribes; and, perhaps since they were already in the area, they were invited to the colonists’ festivities. Regardless, the natives didn’t come merely for a single dinner. They showed up with five freshly killed deer and intended to stick around for a while.

There were no pumpkin pies since the colonists didn’t have butter, wheat flour or a stove to cook in. They didn’t have potatoes, either; spuds weren’t available to them back then. It would be years before white potatoes, which originated in South American, and sweet potatoes, from the Caribbean, reached Plymouth. Sweet cranberry sauce likely wasn’t on the menu since local cranberries were used more for tart garnish. It would be another 50 years before an English writer described boiling cranberries and sugar into a sweet, delectable sauce. Nor did the colonists and natives have forks. Forks didn’t show up in the colony for another seven decades. So it was fingers and knives to eat with.

In addition to the deer, the menu may have consisted of ducks and geese—they were plentiful at that time of the year in the nearby bay—and squash, beans, corn, barley, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, leeks, lettuce, parsnips, and beans from the harvest, as well as striped bass, cod and bluefish. It’s possible, too, that the menu included native wild plants: Jerusalem artichokes, grapes, walnuts, chestnuts, and garlic. There may also have been lobster, seal and swans on the menu. Every history book and account that I’ve read about the menu seems to have its own version of what was or wasn’t served.

It was a big chore to prepare food for the approximate 150 diners—the surviving colonists and the approximate 100 natives. Only four married women were still alive by then, so they likely had help from children, servants and unmarried men. And perhaps some natives. I’ve wondered about what was recorded from back then about “unmarried” men helping with the dinner. What about the married guys? The image in my mind: The married guys were lounging around smoking big cigars, drinking beer—of course, yes, my over-wild imagination. It was the culture at the time (and often even now) that food preparation was woman’s work.

Were turkeys on the menu? Historians are divided over whether they were. Some say nay. Others say yes. Most admit no one knows for certain.

Many Americans believe turkeys were served at the First Thanksgiving. That may have or may not have been the case.

Wild turkeys, though, were definitely available to the Plymouth settlers. It was a common bird in the New World and a popular one that could be domesticated. Many decades later, Benjamin Franklin called the turkey a “a true original native of America” and “a bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who would presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.” (Just a fun aside here: Regardless of common American lore, Franklin did not campaign for the turkey to become our national symbol. Instead, he wanted an image of Moses extending his hand over the sea, commanding it to overwhelm the pharaoh in an open chariot. Franklin’s proposed motto was “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”)

Today, some Americans think turkeys were unknown to the Pilgrims and Europe prior to the arrival of the Mayflower. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The conquistadors, after they arrived in the 1500s in Mexico, found that natives of Central America had domesticated turkeys. Turkeys were then imported to Spain and, by the 1520s, had become a regular food for Christmas meals in England.

The turkey gained popularity in the United States thanks to a writer and editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of the Mary Had A Little Lamb nursery rhyme. She thought we needed a national holiday to unify the nation; the day, she believed, should also have religious overtones.

Sarah Josepha Hale, the lady largely responsible for the Thanksgiving holiday. She lobbied five presidents before Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a federal Thanksgiving Day.

In 1827, she published a novel, Northwood; Or Life North and South, Showing the True Character of Both, that introduced the idyllic Thanksgiving table, with turkey as its star cuisine. She wrote: “[It] is considered as an appropriate tribute of gratitude to God to set apart one day of Thanksgiving in each year; and autumn is the time when the overflowing garners of America call for this expression of joyful gratitude.”

Hale was one of the earliest trendsetters in our country’s history. She was editor of a popular women’s magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, which, with a circulation of 150,000 in 1860, became the leading advocate for establishing Thanksgiving as an annual event. She published Thanksgiving recipes and menus in the magazine. She also wrote a dozen cookbooks. She petitioned five U.S. presidents to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Her successful pitch to Lincoln focused on the need to unite the country through a national holiday during the Civil War.

By the time Lincoln signed the proclamation to establish the holiday, the idea of Thanksgiving was already solidly planted, thanks to Hale, in the minds of homemakers throughout the nation. The Thanksgiving menu we think of today—roasted turkey stuffed with sage and other tasty ingredients, mashed potato dishes, and the like—was already established in their holiday menus because of Hale.

Today, about 88 percent of Americans eat 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day.

Historians believe those who attended the First Thanksgiving stood or sat on the ground because the colonist hadn’t made tables like the one shown in this painting. Nor were there white tablecloths. Smithsonian: Bettmann/Corbis

The Plymouth dining fare did not resemble what we think of today. There were no long tables covered with white tablecloths. The colonists’ had spent their precious time over the first year in farming and constructing shelters, and not making furniture for themselves. They and the natives stood, squatted or sat on the ground around campfires as meat cooked on wooden spits and stews simmered in pots.

Many modern Americans mentally view the Pilgrims as an austere, somber group of straight-back stature. That may be largely true—it’s a good PR image for the Pilgrims—but they also had ribald sides, too. A written description of the First Thanksgiving from a Pilgrim leader seems to describe a traditional English harvest festival that dated back to the Middle Ages: food, drink and games.

The colonists surely evoked God’s name and grace as they gave thanks. For Native Americans, giving thanks was an ongoing practice. Theirs was a daily routine of thankfulness. They offered a prayer or acknowledgement every time they hunted, fished or harvested a plant.

One of the likely features of the First Thanksgiving that normally isn’t thought about today is the countryside itself. Some of the surrounding Plymouth land looked barren due to previous native residents burning away vegetation to make room for crops.

But within short strolls of the new colony there were forested areas of oak, maple, hickory, birches, and other trees. These offered beautiful fall scenery unlike trees in England and Holland, from which the Pilgrims originated. Back there in civilization, typically cloudy days and warm nights resulted in muted, uninspired and bland fall colors. In contrast, fall days in the New World were sunny; nights, cool, a perfect condition for decreasing chlorophyll in leaves, allowing colorful pigments to emerge.

At the First Thanksgiving—I like to imagine—the forests were painted in fiery reds, lively amber, crimson and scarlet, russets, golden brown, and bright yellow. It would have been a visual feast for the new arrivals to America.

Now, as this year’s Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a good time to learn more about the First Thanksgiving and how a tiny group of brave people overcame the tough odds against them. Check out the resources that I listed below.

We should also give thanks for where we are, what we have and where we came from. And do as I did for myself: Learn about your family’s past.


Here are good resources to read (I used information from some of these to write this article):

–The nonfiction book Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick. It’s an entertaining account, accurate and in-depth. I highly recommend it.

Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, by William Bradford, a leader of the Plymouth colony. This is the most authoritative account of the Pilgrims and the early years of their colony.

From Thanksgiving 2019. An excellent article for learning about the history of the modern Thanksgiving.

How the turkey became Thanksgiving’s mascot.

From Colonists at the first Thanksgiving were mostly men because women had perished.

Smithsonian magazine: What was on the menu for the First Thanksgiving?