Toc-Tic Time

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Like it or not, it’s that time again.  Time to enter the cave of early darkness that gets compounded with colder temperatures and questionable precipitation impact.  Only two more days–really, just one-and-a-half.

I’m talking, of course, about exiting daylight savings time and re-entering standard time, with accompanying seasonal changes.  I listen as the clock on my office wall ticks away the minutes toward the inevitable Saturday night switch.  “Spring forward, fall back,” goes the rhythmic reminder.  Tic-toc, tic-toc.  The clock’s relentless movement reminds me that I’m a tic-toc person being forced into a temporary toc-tic world.

“Get over it,” says the world around me.  Good advice.  I should be “over it” after four score years.

“Are you nuts?” somebody says.  “Daylight savings time isn’t natural.  It’s just something somebody made up–perhaps a riddle about the old adage, ‘It’s later than you think.'”

Yeah, I know all that.  I know, too, about the cows who have to be milked no matter what the clock on the wall says.  I come from a dairy family.  I did my stint in the milking stall.  I never heard the cows complain about the time on a clock!  They don’t care whether it’s tic-toc, or toc-tic.  Every day’s the same…a swish of the tail says, “Just feed me and get this over so I can get back to the pasture.”

To me, it’s all a matter of perspective.  I like to live on the side of energy, forward movement, and light.  I enjoy the longer days, shorter nights.  My post-cataract eyes cope with driving in the dark.  My body chemistry, however, seems geared to DST.

So, here we are.  Tomorrow night I’ll heave a sigh and set my clocks back an hour.  Toc-tic.  I’ll begin counting down the days until the winter solstice when daylight begins to consume more of each day.  I’ll anticipate the return of tic-toc time in March.  After all, toc-tic time is just a temporary interruption!

Try a Different Door!

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My publisher went out of business in January!   That means my books went out of print, and out of distribution.  It was a door suddenly slammed shut in my face–totally unexpected, although there had been signs, had I been more perceptive.

So, what now?

I had three novels in print, one of which was a second edition.  I had worked with my wife on a nonfiction book we published two years ago.  On top of that, I’d spent much of the previous year writing a biography that I anticipated getting published.

Boom!  It felt like hitting a brick wall.

My first thought was to seek a new publisher.  Major problem:  I had no money to invest.  Some people suggested crowd funding.  I wasn’t so sure, but took a shot at it.  Nothing!

Backstory…I’m an artist as well as a writer.  When I started writing I stepped away from painting.  I guess I have a narrowly-focused muse.  As publishing doors seemed to close, I took another look at the unsold paintings I had in my garage.  “Okay, maybe it’s time to change focus.”  I had some opportunities to exhibit my work, so I jumped back in.  Lots of publicity. Painted some new things.  

It worked!  I hung 23 paintings in a month-long exhibit out-of-town, and sold one.  The next month I entered three pieces in a local exhibit and sold one.  This month I entered five in another remote exhibit and sold three.

So what now?  Am I going back to painting?  Probably not–well, maybe an occasional piece.  What happened during this period of art shows was that I discovered Kindle Direct Publishing.  It has opened a  whole new world.  I think I want to dwell here for a while.

Becoming an independent author with Kindle is like going through a different door.  No up-front costs means I’m free to explore where else my writing might take me. The first benefit was it provided a way to publish the book I had just finished writing about my mother’s life.

The book’s titled When Love Prevails, and chronicles her journey from an Ohio dairy farm where she was born, to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where she blossomed.  Along the way she experienced the Great Depression, World War II, the raising of two handicapped children, founding a residential school for severely physically handicapped adults, the loss of those who children, her husband’s Alzheimer’s Disease and death, and a few years as the least assisted resident of an assisted living facility.  Her faith gave her courage and wisdom for a journey that lasted 105 years.

When Love Prevails is available now in e-book format for kindle reader, tablet and smart phone–and also in paperback through Amazon.  

My task now is formatting e-book editions for each of  my Dinkel Island Series novels:  A Change of Heart, Return of Bliss, and Secrets at Lighthouse Point.  Each book has a new cover, and some good re-writing.  In September my wife and I republished her book through Kindle:  NPH Journey into Dementia and Out Again.

The Kindle door has been a great re-awakening for me in terms of writing and publishing.  Once I finish all the resets, I’ll get back into book four of the Dinkel Island Series.  Meanwhile, I invite you through this door with me…visit my books at Amazon.com.  Read an e-book edition on your computer, tablet or phone, then write a review of your impression of the book and send it to Amazon.  That’s how the system works inside this new door.

Today I’m thankful I tried a different door!  I wonder how many more “different doors” await me in the future?

A Fresh Start

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On July 23, 1982, Sharon and I were married at Mechanicsville United Methodist Church where I was serving as pastor.  We had met a year earlier at Woody’s Funeral Home when I did her grandmother’s funeral.  Having each been divorced, our marriage was a fresh start for us, and for the children we each brought into the blending of a new family.

Having failed at marriage, starting over was a giant step of faith.  We needed, and received, the support of our families, both church and biological, and our friends.  More than that, we needed God’s grace and guidance, which we received in abundance.

Our district superintendent told us about a group called the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment (ACME).  We became involved, learning new skills in communication, dealing with our emotional “baggage,” and relationship-building that gave us a strong foundation.  In time we attended leadership training with David and Vera Mace, ACME founders.   We led marriage enrichment retreats, and even served a term as leader couple for the Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia Region of ACME.  

We soon discovered a realty we hadn’t weighed.  When Sharon and I married each other, that didn’t mean our kids automatically fit together as a family unit.  Some people thought calling a step-family a “blended” family, would “fix” the issue by changing the focus. In reality, what was needed was “bonding” with each other, respecting each other’s separate identities, and intentionally working at identifying and building a common bond.  Couples facing these tasks needed a supportive network.  To address this, Sharon and I formed The Stepfamily Connection.   Under the umbrella of Mechanicsville UM Church, we held monthly meetings with other stepfamilies, sharing experiences, skills and resources.  The group existed until I was transferred to a different church.

Stepping into the role of a pastor’s wife at “mid-stream” brought challenges of its own for Sharon.  It also brought new spiritual growth and a deeper sense of God’s love, strength and redirection.  A full-time secondary teacher, she soon found building a new family unit required primary attention.  She moved to part-time teaching.  

“Fresh starts” continued to occur.  Spiritual growth  opened new vistas of God’s call in Sharon’s life.  After a few years she went back to graduate school for a Master’s Degree in Counseling, then went through the steps to become a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist.  She spent fifteen years helping other’s find their own fresh starts.

Today, Sharon and I are celebrating thirty-five years of marriage.  We could never have become the persons we are today without the bonding God has given us in our life together.  When she went through a neurological crisis, we wrote a book about the experience in order to help others.  I have continued a life-long artistic expression through painting, drawing, and writing.  We’ve had struggles and triumphs, and most of all, no matter what, we’ve had each other.

We’ve also learned that around each corner, if we keep faith with God and each other, there is the promise of yet another life-enhancing “fresh start.”

 

Achievements and Recognitions

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(Chapter 22, “Dairyman’s Daughter,” remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

The Cybertype machine was only one contribution that came through the link of Community of Hope with Madison College–which became James Madison University in 1977.  The school’s growing reputation for excellence in health services meant Community of Hope had access to cutting edge advances in speech therapy.  When two professors discovered a grant was available in the use of technology to teach people with speech problems, they thought of COHOPE.

Mary and Hugh were excited, but also curious.  They asked one of the professors, “Aren’t there always a lot of people competing for grants that can only go to a few?  How would we go about doing this…I mean, what makes you think COHOPE would have a chance?”

“Of course it’s a competitive process.  We wouldn’t downplay that, yet look what you’ve already built, basically from scratch–a program effectively serving some of the most severely speech impaired people we’ve seen.  We believe, if you focus on that, you can be very competitive.”

Mary pondered his words.  She was drawn to the idea.  “Okay, how would we go about this?  Is there a formula or something we need to follow?”

“Yes. there is a protocol, and we can help you with that.  Most of all, though, grants are awarded on the basis of uniqueness and merit.  Your program already stands out in those areas.”

After further discussion, they decided to give it a try.  Hugh worked hard at learning the “system,” as he called it, for presenting their cause.  They submitted their request and waited.  Finally, the word came–they had, indeed, won a grant.  Mary and Hugh were thrilled.

When the money arrived, they used it to sponsor a Communication Workshop at the Ingleside Resort in nearby Augusta County.  People attended from all around the state.  COHOPE staff members were among them, including two teachers who produced an outstanding project.  They published a book detailing a unique approach to handicapped education that became a resource in the JMU library.

Of special impact was a chapter about an innovation called the “Nine-to-Nine Board.”  This was a chart that could be adapted to the needs, interests, and background of individual students. Through a system of nine different eye movements, handicapped persons could use the chart to communicate.

One COHOPE resident named Melody, was severely handicapped, confined to a wheelchair, and had no speech at all.  Using the technology of the Nine-to-Nine Board, in tandem with a sensitivity fostered by Community of Hope’s faith-based philosophy, the staff tapped into Melody’s bright, active mind that was otherwise masked by her condition.  She learned to communicate her thoughts, needs and wants by casting nine different expressive eye movements.  As a result, she entered a new world of relationships that was thrilling to her…almost like a bird set free from a cage.  

Trough experiences like this, the dairyman’s daughter often realized how far her life had taken her down a path she could never have imagined in her childhood days of cherry tree musings on her grandpa’s farm.  Then there were other times when she learned things through unexpected interactions with her COHOPE family.

Such an experience occurred one day during lunch, which was the primary daily meal where residents, day students, and staff members gathered around the table.  Mary wasn’t always able to be there, but on this particular day she was.  Since Paul needed someone to feed him,   she took that responsibility to free someone else.  On this day she sat next to him, alternating between feeding him, and then herself.

Paul sometimes had difficulty chewing and swallowing, so his food was pureed.  Still, if he was given a second bite too quickly, he could choke.  Over the years Mary fell into a habit of coaching him by saying in a low voice, “Swallow, Paul.  Swallow,  Swallow,”

For some reason Paul suddenly rebelled against her method, as if he couldn’t listen to her coaching any longer  He reared up in his chair, actually standing on his footrests for a few seconds, pulled loose his arm straps and shoulder strap, then turned to his mother and shouted, “Swallow!  Swallow!  Swallow!”  Exhausted, but triumphant, he flopped back into his chair amidst an awkward silence as everyone stopped eating and fastened their gaze on Mary to see how she would react.

She felt equally shocked, but recovered quickly.  Calmly, she refastened all Paul’s straps, then continued eating her own lunch.  She completely ignored Paul for several minutes, then quietly resumed feeding him.  She offered spoonful after spoonful, and he ate as though nothing had happened.  Conversation resumed around the table as everyone got back to their own lunch.  Incident over.

Later that afternoon Mary passed Paul;s room, glanced inside and his eyes met hers.   His facial expression said he wanted her to come in and talk, so she did.

“I…am…ssorry…Mmmo-ther.”  He twisted his head, straining in his chair as he spoke  “I…am…sorry I…BLEW…UP!”  He exhaled deeply as the tension left his body, keeping eye contact.

Mary reached to him, looking into his eyes.  “You had every reason to blow up, Paul, and I’m glad you did.  Thanks for making me put myself in your place and realize what a mistake I’ve been making.”

Paul said nothing more, but his relief was comforting to Mary, as was the beautiful smile that accompanied it.

Life at COHOPE was like that!  It was sometimes full of surprises, always involved learning experiences, was frequently exhausting, and always fulfilling.  Mary would lie down at night, offering thanks to God for everything that was happening in her life.  She would pray for wisdom and strength to continue the journey she had begun the day she married the man of whom her father said, “You’ll never have a dull moment.”

He had been right.  What was also right, she realized, was that without Hugh’s unique talents and temperament, she could never have met the challenges her life had produced.   She gave thanks as she reminisced.

COHOPE truly was a community where hope resided, and became visible in peoples’ lives. Mary and Hugh were often invited to speak before church and civic groups, telling their story. From the beginning, this was natural for Hugh, the salesman who never seemed to meet a stranger.  It was much harder for Mary.  Early on she told him she didn’t think she could do it. His reply was characteristically to the point, couched in a touch of humor.

“Oh,” he said, “just act like you’re talking on the phone.  You never have any trouble with that!”

She smiled to herself remembering this.  His advice had been sound, and she had learned to just relax and be herself in any situation.

Sometimes Mary and Hugh’s efforts brought formal public recognition.  Every year the Exchange Club in Harrisonburg presented a “Golden Deeds” award to someone in the community.  One year Hugh was given that award in recognition of his devotion to the cause of helping where he saw a need.

Because of her work with COHOPE, Mary was invited to join the Pilot Club of Harrisonburg. This was an organization for women comparable to the Rotary Club.  The group took interest in their members for the kind of services they provided through charitable organizations. Mary remembered warmly the honor she felt when the club presented her with the Salvation Army’s “Others” award for her work at COHOPE.  She was the second person in Harrisonburg to be given this award.

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Mary cherished all of these experiences.  Her life became a treasure chest of accomplishments focused on others,  She felt blessed and deeply fulfilled

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter,” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris.)

Majestic Aging

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(Weathered Wall, Acrylic on Canvas by Hugh Townsend Harris)

What’s it like to be old?

I’d say it is like being enriched!

Take an old, retired tobacco barn in Halifax County, Virginia, for instance.  Seen from a distance, the barn appears to be almost lifeless, wood rotting away, in danger of toppling over.  But take a closer look.  See beyond the obvious to the character masked by the effects of aging.  That weathered old structure is actually in an enriched, majestic state of being.

Aging is a majestic process.  It’s the most universal and persistent of all human experiences.  We start it as soon as we’re born.  It’s a ripening process.

We associate wrinkled skin, thinning hair, loss of hearing, and generally a state of decline with the idea of being old.  So we don’t want any part of it.  “I’m only as old as I feel,” we tell ourselves.  Well…maybe…sometimes.  Some of us feel the wear and tear differently than others.  Ripening is about being enriched at a deeper, inward level.

The secret to majestic aging is staying alert, active, connected to God and to others, exploring new options as life’s stages unfold.  It’s learning to be comfortable in our own skin, not taking ourselves too seriously because now we know it really isn’t all about us anyway.  

When I missed my mother for the first Christmas in seventy-nine years I wrote a blog about “Feeling Old.”  Where once I had persistently seen my glass as half-full, I could now see it as half-empty.  I can now appreciate what it means to have more days behind me than in front of me.  That’s a good thing!  It frees me to capture the essence of each moment, each relationship, each unfolding experience.

It means I’m being enriched from the inside-out…just like the wall on that old tobacco barn.

That’s majestic!

 

Going the Extra Mile

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CP Mother of the Year

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Mary and Hugh were challenged to go the extra mile when they got involved with a CP Parents group.  Here were people who wanted to create a center to provide schooling and physical therapy for their children.  They were actively exploring methods to fund their dreams.

The group provided good networking for Mary.  She thrived on their bi-monthly meetings that provided bonding around common experiences, ideas, frustrations and triumphs.  She got involved with the funding discussion.  Television was a new and powerful communication instrument.  The group decided to approach WLW-TV about doing a telethon to get visibility for their efforts.

They launched a contest to name one of their members “CP Mother of the Year,” and have this person presented during the telethon, which would be held at a prominent hotel. Over a period of time community business leaders submitted letters nominating someone for this honor.  Mary was overwhelmed when she received the most letters and was selected.  The night of the telethon her children were thrilled to see their mom on television.

From there on fund-raising efforts proved effective.  The group hired a professional fund-raiser to direct the program and soon they were able to move forward with the center.  That’s when Mary suddenly hit a brick wall.  When the center was ready to open she found out Paul wasn’t qualified to participate.  Several other children with similar levels of need were also rejected.  She learned that group leaders had set minimum standards for participation that said only children who could feed themselves and were toilet trained could qualify.

Mary was crushed and angered.  “I can’t believe this, can you?” she said over the phone to another parent whose child was rejected.  “Why did we all work so hard if this isn’t going to serve the children who need it most?”

She took her feelings to God in prayer.   Lord, I don’t understand this.  We found this group, believed in their cause, helped them raise money to create this facility…and now we’re blocked!  Why?  What did we do wrong?  Show us the way.

In response, she heard an inner voice saying, Wait!  Keep the faith!  Look deeper!

Mary found herself going the “extra mile” again.  She called the other parents of rejected children.  “Maybe this just wasn’t the right approach,” she found herself saying.  “Maybe we need to do something else.  Can you come to our house Saturday afternoon?  We’ll have sandwiches and talk this over.”

On Saturday five children and their parents showed up.  This was a different “coming together” than they had experienced with the other group.  They were all active caregivers who loved their kids and wanted to advocate for them.  They began to meet each week and dubbed themselves the CP Support Group.

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The impact on the children was noticeable.  Being a child with Cerebral Palsy was isolating.  People around them didn’t understand their condition or their needs.  The support group had the effect of normalizing their lives.  Now they could simply “be kids”–laughing and playing together in the safety this group provided.  Mary and Hugh were thrilled.

“Sometimes God has different ideas that we can’t see right away,” Mary said one day.  “We had to run into a brick wall in order to see past the boundaries we had helped set up.”  The support group began to feel energized and soon became visible, and people wanted to help.  One of those  was Paul’s Sunday school teacher.  She and Mary had become friends, and one day she said, “You know, I’d love to come over when your group meets and read some stories to the children.  It might help stimulate them to learn words.  Do you think that would be all right?”

Mary and the group welcomed her.  Soon she was innovating ways to teach these special needs children to speak.  She would put a word she wanted them to learn on a red ribbon that she pinned to their shirt or dress.  The kids squealed with delight and tried to form the words.  They began to have contests to see which child could get the most words on their ribbon.  This became such a stimulus that the group grew from six to twelve children.

About that time Clifton Methodist Church received a new pastor, Reverend Warren Bright. Mary invited him to her house for one of the support group’s meetings.  He was impressed with what they were doing, but noticed how crowded they were.  He made a suggestion.

“Have you ever considered meeting at the church?  We have a large social hall, a kitchen and bathrooms–anything you might need.  You would have so much more room.  I do hope you’ll consider this.”

It didn’t take them long to say “yes.”  The group became known as the Clifton “CP School.”  A woman named Mildred Martin emerged as a key leader who would keep the group functioning for many  years.

Mary and Hugh continued their trips with Paul to visit Dr. Phelps during all of this.  They were still thinking about moving to the Shenandoah Valley some day so they could be closer to Maryland.  Mary also remembered how the beauty of the area had attracted her.  They put their house on the market, but after a while took it back off due to lack of interest.

Hugh had been selling women’s hats, and had done well with it, but it took him out of town a lot.  Then he had the chance to open a business of his own.  He had become interested in woodworking and cabinetry.  A space suitable for a shop opened up on Vine Street, next door to a moving company.  It was an ideal location.  A major part of his work became refinishing furniture damaged in transit.  Applying his woodworking skills to the house, he decided to remodel the kitchen.  About this same time they put the house back on the market, still thinking about Virginia.  He was only halfway finished with the remodeling when the house sold.

Suddenly their world was turning upside down again.  The dream of living in the Shenandoah Valley was now a possibility.  Hugh drove to Harrisonburg where they had stayed at the Pure Village Court, and looked for a house.  He had limited funds and the realtor showed him several places, but nothing seemed right.  Then he was shown an old tenant farm house in the village of Keezletown.  It had once been part of the estate of Senator George Keezle.

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The property covered three-and-a-half acres that included an apple orchard…and a magnificent view of the Massanutten Mountain and the valley that spread out from it.  The house needed a lot of work, but the price was right.  He went home and described it to Mary.

“I bought the most magnificent view you’ll find anywhere in the Shenandoah Valley.  You can sit in the front yard and look out across miles of farmland.  She was fascinated with his description, and intrigued by the apple orchard.  Then she choked back some misgivings when he told her more about the condition of the house.

“It has a cistern for water located right outside the back door.”

Mary pictured the well outside the kitchen of the hold house on the dairy farm where She wasn’t sure how she felt about the cistern.  Then he told her the biggest drawback.  “It doesn’t have a bathroom, and it has no closets.”

“Hubert Harris, if you think I’m going to live in a house without a bathroom or closets, you are mistaken!”

He tried to console her.  “You won’t have to live in it like that, honey.  I’m going back for a few weeks and I’ll fix it up.  The soil perks, so I can put in a septic tank and build a bathroom…and I can build closets.  I’ll also turn the old back porch into an enclosed utility room.”

She thought about the view and her desire to live in the Valley.  This was the biggest “extra mile” she’d encountered yet.  After prayer and more discussion, she saw God’s hand in it. It was 1951 and they had lived in the house of her dreams on Howell Avenue for six years. She reckoned it was time to trade dreams and entrusted that to God.

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The dairyman’s daughter was about to move back to the country…not to a farm, but close. It felt good!

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it REALLY Alzheimer’s?

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Not everything that looks like Alzheimer’s Disease, is AD!

I’m Hugh Harris and I worked with my wife, Sharon French Harris, to write this small book that journals our experience with a neurological condition that can mimic Alzheimer’s Disease and/or Parkinson’s Disease.  Dr. Adam Mednick (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus:  From Diagnosis to Treatment) states that as many as five percent of people who believe they have Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, may actually have NPH!  We wrote our book to try to make this condition that may be correctable visible to more people.

Classic symptoms that flag the possibility of NPH are:  impaired gate, falling, lack of balance; impaired thinking, including loss of short-term memory; and incontinence.  Any of these might be mistaken for normal aging.

The standard test for NPH is a spinal tap and then a three-day period of observation to measure effects when cerebrospinal fluid is periodically withdrawn.  Improvement can lead to implantation of a shunt in the brain that regularly removes the fluid and allows a return to normal functioning.

In Sharon’s case, she was slow to respond to the spinal tap and was diagnosed with irreversible dementia.  Then her responses emerged and she did receive a shunt…but all of that is what the book is about!

We’re not doctors, so this is not a medical/technical book.  It is the story our our journey through diagnosis, the shunt procedure, and recovery.  We have written it in a personal, everyday manner.  If you, a spouse or loved one, a parent, or a friend suffer with the three classic symptoms mentioned above, you and those you care about are the people for whom we wrote this book.

NPH:  Journey into Dementia and Out Again, by Sharon French Harris with Hugh Harris.  Tate Publishing.com   Amazon   Barnes & Noble

 

 

So What’s the Big Secret?

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There’s a big secret at Dinkel Island, but almost nobody in town is even aware of it.  That all changes when Fanny Grayson buys the old lighthouse and invites Gracie Love to help her turn it into a retreat center.  All kinds of rumors break out–things meant to intimidate Gracie and stop the project.  But…WHY?

The Old Geezers gather for coffee at the drugstore lunch counter and speculate about it.  Gracie’s cousin, Kate Sheppard, gets involved.  Ed Heygood steps in to help sell the retreat project to the pastors and churches in town.  Gracie has a nauseous reaction when she and Marty explore inside the old lighthouse.  Doc Patcher says the rumors are “fed by something or someone you can’t see.”  What’s that mean?

The plot thickens when two funerals draw media attention.  At one of those the speaker created “an air of electric silence, as though people were afraid the room couldn’t hold too much honesty.”  Whoa!

When a prominent businessman disappears, and then FBI agents begin floating around town things really get tense.  Hey, what were those guys in the opening page doing out there in an old workboat on a moonless night, running through a field of crab pots without running lights?  Any connection?  Might be!

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So finally things come to a head and all the secrets…yes, there is more than one…surface.  If you want a great read, try SECRETS AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT, by Hugh Harris.  Tate Publishing.com   Amazon   Barnes & Noble.  Also:  Book People, Buford Road Pharmacy.

 

 

Never a Dull Day!

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House on Berwyn Place, Downstairs Apartment

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

The charm of Mary and Hugh’s Walnut Hills “castle” crumbled within a few weeks.

It happened on a Saturday when Mary was dusting furniture in the living room.  From the corner of her eye she caught a sudden blur of movement on the floor.  She stopped, stood still, then ventured a glance over her shoulder.

Nothing!

She waited a minute, then shrugged and resumed her dusting.  Must have been my imagination.  Again she caught a sense of movement on the floor.  She turned quickly, then screamed.

“Eeeek!  Hubert…there’s a creature in here.  Help!”

Hugh had been drying breakfast dishes in the kitchen and came quickly.  “What is it, Mary?”

“There!”  She pointed in the direction of the wall and suddenly another little black figure darted, then stopped with its long feelers exploring its surroundings.  Hugh grabbed a section of newspaper, rolled it, swatted the insect before it could run again, and disposed of the corpse in the trash can.

“It’s okay, honey.  It’s just a roach.”

“A roach?  That’s awful!  Where did it come from?  How many more are there?”  She shivered as she spoke.

“I don’t know,” Hugh said, comforting her with a hug.  He started searching the baseboard and found some more.  A little investigation revealed the source of the roaches.  There was a laundry right behind the apartment.  It had a wooden floor that stayed damp most of the time.  That’s where they were coming from.

They lost no time finding another apartment, unaware that they were starting what would become a two-year period of apartment jumping.

Without leaving Walnut Hills they found an efficiency apartment–one room with a sofa that opened into twin beds.  Behind two doors they discovered a kitchen complete with a small sink, two-burner hot plate, small refrigerator and two shelves.  There was a nice bathroom, and the price was right, so they took it.  Since it was summer they left the windows open during the night to gain some breeze.  They’d hardly gotten to sleep when some nearby neighbors got into a heated argument.  Since they were still in honeymoon mode, this became an intolerable intrusion.

Moving again, they found a furnished apartment with an in-a-door bed they could roll out of a closet each night.  A small kitchen featured a full-size stove and refrigerator, and there was a nice bathroom.  A large house next door had a fenced yard where two Irish Setters with red satin coats lived.  Mary enjoyed them greeting her each evening as she came in from work.  All was well until night when they discovered the man upstairs beat his wife several times a week.  They stayed until they couldn’t endure this any longer, then went apartment hunting again.

“Honey, why don’t we look over in Norwood where you grew up?”

Hugh agreed and the soon found a second-floor apartment on Madison Street.  It had a private entrance, living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom and bath.  This place felt good.  They settled in.

It wasn’t long until Mary visited a doctor and learned that she was going to have a baby.   She shared the news with Hugh that night and they reflected on their situation.

“I’m so glad we have this place,” she said.  “It’s going to be just right for starting our family.”  They had a romantic dinner and then sat holding each other while he sang songs to her softly.  Things were looking up.

Hugh had a new job that required travel, selling machinery related to manufacturing bottle caps.  The drawback was that it required out-of-town travel, so she was alone many nights.  The landlord couple downstairs had a twelve-year-old daughter who would come up and keep her company.  They talked, and laughed, and she gave the girl manicures and fixed her hair.  Mary remembered herself at that age and enjoyed the relationship.  One evening the girl said Mary seemed to be unusually happy and wondered why.

“I’m happy because in a few months we’re going to have a baby.  Then you can come up and help me take care of it.”

When the girl told her mother about it she was forbidden to visit upstairs, and Mary was told that she and Hugh would have to move because small children weren’t allowed.  Hugh was upset about this and asked the husband why they objected to a baby upstairs.  The man seemed embarrassed and apologetic.

“It’s nothing personal,” he told Hugh.  “You two are great people and we like you, but we lost a baby early in our marriage and my wife just can’t emotionally handle having a baby around.  I really am sorry, but you’ll have to find somewhere else to live.”

That took the wind out of Mary and Hugh’s anticipation of childbirth.  He went to work and found a better apartment on Berwyn Place in the Oakley section of the city.  They rented the downstairs of a house located on a cul-de-sac that featured a garage and a wooded backyard.  Hugh had recently traded in a Model A Ford he’d been driving, for a Chevrolet.  The garage would come in handy.

The owners of the house were two older ladies of German descent, Anna and Doris Stenning, who had never married.  When they found out this new couple renting their apartment were expecting a baby, they were delighted.  Mary and Hugh settled in.

The baby was due in March and as the date drew near storms began blowing dust clouds into the area from the Midwest Dust Bowl.  Mary went into labor one stormy Saturday morning when it was raining mud.  Hugh took her to Christ Hospital.  Rain falling through the dust clouds created a muddy smear on everything, including the hospital windows.  Suddenly through the air came an unmistakable cry.  Mary’s first child had just been born!  They named him Hugh.

It was customary then for a new mother to remain in the hospital for ten days after childbirth.  Mary enjoyed this special time with her tiny offspring whom they had decided to nickname “Hughie.”  When they came home Hughie was an immediate hit with the Stenning sisters.  They spoke with a noticeable accent and called him “Little Chu.”

Mary was thrilled to have built-in baby sitters.  Anna and Doris were constantly around Little Chu, making sure he was safe.  One day Mary left Hughie in the playpen out in the yard and went shopping.  While she was gone Hugh decided to take his car apart, literally.  She returned to find the entire driveway filled with auto parts.  She was flabbergasted.  Hugh said there was nothing to worry about.  He just wanted to see how it was made and could put it all back together.

In a state of shock Mary looked toward the playpen.  It was empty!  “Where’s my baby?” she yelled at Hugh.  He looked completely baffled by her reaction.

“Oh, he’s alright.  He’s inside.  The Stennings have him.”

Of course.  That explained it all.  Her anger abated and she went inside the house.  The first thing she noticed was loud banging coming from upstairs.  She dropped her shopping bags and ran up to see what was going on.

The banging was accompanied by joyful laughter coming from the bathroom down the hall.  She stopped in her tracks when she reached the door.  There was little Hughie sitting in the bathtub, banging away with a bath brush.  Anna and Doris were applauding and rolling in laughter.  Mary couldn’t help but break laughing herself.

That day became etched in her memory.  Life had surely shifted for the dairyman’s daughter who now had a husband with all the parts of his car spread over the driveway, a small child banging recklessly on the sides of a bathtub, and two old ladies nearly going berserk with laughter at the sight and sound of it all.

Elmer had told his daughter she would never have a dull day if she married Hugh Harris.  He was right!  What would happen next?

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter” by Hugh Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris.)