How Georgia Grace became the family ‘black sheep’


Georgia Grace couldn’t help it.

She was beautiful, and I guess she knew it. After her triumph at the Rattle-Snake Round up, and her placing at the Peanut Festival, there was the storybook wedding to Hank. Or, at least it was sort of storybook.

Clevus, who was by then, Mayor of Contentment, stood up for Hank. He didn’t mind Hank taking Georgia Grace off the family’s hands, it would be one less mouth for Aunt Ginny to feed. However, he wasn’t so sure about her groom, a man who he thought would blow away in the wind.

He also commented on some things that might have been better off left alone. He and Hank had participated in sports together, and he’d seen him before he went into the shower. Clevus, who sported a veritable carpet of chest hair only saw one or two hairs on Hank’s concave chest. He wondered if Hank’s dog, Chewy, was going to be the only offspring Hank was going to be able to produce.

Still, Clevus wanted his little sister to be happy. So he showed up on Hank and Georgia Grace’s wedding day and stood next to a very nervous looking Hank. He was ready to provide moral support (or a beating)–whichever was needed to make sure the day went well.  His moral support included contributing to the wedding service.

When Brother Holland asked if there was any reason that Hank and Georgia Grace should not be joined in holy matrimony, Clevus snarled in Hank’s ear, “There darn sure better not be a reason.” Hank turned sheet-white and shook his head hard.

The ceremony went on. Brother Holland turned to Georgia Grace, resplendent in her pearls and a white satin gown, and then looked at Hank somberly. “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?” Clevus elbowed Hank hard.

Gasping, Hank said, “I do, I do!”

Clevus said, sternly. “You better.”

Brother Holland reared up to his full 6-foot seven inch frame and gave Clevus a withering look, one that he usually saved for the most unrepentant of sinners. “Why don’t you let me handle this, Brother Clevus?” He asked, a bit of rebuke in his voice.

“Why sure thing, Preach.” Clevus agreed. But, he only behaved for a minute.

When they were asked to vow ‘for better or worse,’ Clevus said, just loud enough for the whole church to hear, “It had better not be worse.” A few chuckles came from the congregation.

Brother Holland looked over the assembled and his eyes found Eleanor Grace. “Would you come get your husband, hon?” His tone was something like the one Eleanor Grace’s own preacher father used when he wasn’t really asking, but telling.

Clevus was drug back to the family pew by his petite wife, and made to sit still for the rest of the service.

Now, after the wedding, Hank and Georgia Grace did fine. Hank, once he caught the love-bug, caught it for life, and he never even looked at another woman, not even a table dancer. Georgia Grace doted on Hank, and after the first year, had put 30 pounds on him with her cooking.

So, the trouble wasn’t with their marriage. The trouble was with her brother-in-law Pinky Brown and his twin brother Jonah.

Pinky was married to Bessie Ann, Georgia Grace’s elder sister. Pinky was skinny, like Hank, and for some reason looked about 20 years older than what he was. By the time he was 40, he looked about 70. He put folks in mind of wiener dog, and some said he smelled like one. But Bessie Ann loved him, and stood by her man.

Then, one day, at a family dinner on the grounds, the unbelievable happened. Georgia Grace was sitting next to Hank, delicately chewing on a chicken breast, when Pinky stopped, stared at her, and dropped to his knees. At first folks thought he was having a fit of some sort, so they gathered up close. But it wasn’t a fit, or at least not a physical one.

“I love you, Georgia Grace!” He yelled out.

“Well, that’s really nice, Pinky. You’re a good brother-in-law.” Georgia Grace said, reaching for another piece of chicken.

Pinky proceeded to roll around in the dirt like he was covered with fire ants. Georgia Grace stood up, not wanting to have him roll over her feet. “What’s wrong with you, Pinky? Do we need to call the rescue squad?”

Pinky got to his feet, and waved his hands like a preacher at a revival. “It’s you, Georgia Grace, it’s you! It’s always been you! Why don’t you leave that clodhopper you’re married to, and run off with me? Please?”

Georgia Grace frowned in confusion. “Well first off, you’re married, to my sister. Remember, you vowed not to leave her unless you die!”

Bessie Ann stepped forward, threateningly, “And that can be arranged, Pinky”

I don’t have to tell you, it was scandalous. Horrible. The whole event got around Contentment in a matter of hours, and that evening, Pinky had moved into his brother Junior’s trailer with Junior’s wife and four kids. He was defiant. He had to have Georgia Grace or die alone.

A divorce quickly ensued.

Bessie, however, wasn’t lonely for long. Jonah had always liked Bessie’s cooking, and came over to show her compassion and to get a free meal. Before you knew it, he was living there (in sin). Before Brother Holland and Aunt Ginny could get over there to  cleanse that trailer from the devil, Bessie and Jonah went down to the courthouse and got married, just two weeks after Bessie’s divorce was final.

Maybe it was that she was vulnerable. Maybe it was because Jonah was a dead ringer for his twin, right down to the pre-mature aged look. Regardless, the next time there was a family dinner, Bessie and her new husband showed up.

Pinky was absent, at least at first.

Halfway through the pork loins and cubed steak, Cupid, who must have been in a sadistic mood that day, struck again.

Jonah saw Georgia Grace as if for the first time. And, it was not like she was a stranger. Jonah had seen her around her whole life. But this time, it was different. Jonah came up, grabbed her hand, and told Georgia Grace that she was the love of his life, and that he wanted her really bad.

Georgia Grace again looked puzzled. Clevus Vernon shook his head. “Lord have mercy,” He said, “Another one.”

But then, it got better. Before Georgia Grace could say a word (Hank wasn’t saying nothing), a voice came up from behind Jonah. “Hold it right there, Buster.”

Pinky.

“That woman’s mine, and you need to just plum back off.” Pinky said to his brother.

Jonah said neither he nor Pinky were worth the dust on her feet (Georgia Grace nodded agreement) but Jonah’d do anything, anything, if she would divorce Hank and be his love.

Pinky had something to say about that, and before you knew it the two were scuffling like toddlers over a favored toy.

Then, guns came out.

Both brothers shot each other in the knee, and passed out from the pain, but not before swearing their eternal love for Georgia Grace.

Eula Mae and the other kids assembled thought it was grand drama. None of the adults did, however. Bessie got another divorce, and got on a Greyhound to New York City, determined to start her life fresh.

The family never quite forgave Georgia Grace for all this. They figured a respectable married woman should have turned down her personal charisma a notch. And while no one ever told her she couldn’t come to a family dinner or visit at their homes, they didn’t exactly welcome her either, especially her remaining sisters who all had husbands they wanted to keep.

Bessie was gone for four years, and came back with a Yankee-husband, named Rudolfo Valentino Huffman. It didn’t take the family long to christen him, “Uncle Rat.”

The family blamed Georgia Grace for that too. If she’d just kept her charisma to herself then this Yankee scourge would have never come to town. And there were times, especially when Uncle Rat got really going, that it seemed certain that he was going to start the Civil War all over again.

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Georgia Grace and the Rattlesnake Round-up


There were four girls and three boys in the Vernon Family. Clevus was the eldest and usually the most obnoxious. The eldest girl, Tully, would be the first Vernon to leave Contentment in over a century. Then there was Julie Ann who caused family scandal by marrying a Yankee soldier she’d met over at ‘Camp Rucker’,

Next was Bessie Sue, who was somewhat dramatic and ended up being married three times, the last to a man who became known as ‘Uncle Rat.” Georgia Grace was the last girl and mostly who we’re going to talk about in this story.

The next to the youngest boy was Johnny Paul whose marital struggles, and skill with both drinking and guitar playing made him a legend in Mulberry County. Lastly, there was the baby, Billy Ray, who became famous for something he swore he saw in Hogwalla lake.

Georgia Grace, out of four sisters, had been born with a non-functioning thyroid. This meant that if she smelled chocolate cake, she would instantly put on ten pounds. The fact that she, like all the Vernon girls were fantastic cooks (who liked what they cooked) made it a sure thing that Georgia Grace would be tipping the scales at just over 500 pounds by the time she was sixteen.

The county’s doctor, Woodrow Smart (who also owned a cattle farm) would put Georgia Grace on one of the farm scales because they were the only ones she wouldn’t break. He checked her for everything from diabetes to hypertension, figuring that that amount of weight couldn’t be good for anyone.

Georgia Grace was, however, both healthy and agile. She wasn’t what anyone would call ‘flabby.’ She was a solid young woman, able to walk, run, cuss, fuss and hold her own in a bar fight if she needed to. Not to mention that, she, like all the Vernon girls was blindingly beautiful.

Georgia Grace had lovely dark auburn hair that she kept in a bouffant. Her green eyes were slanted slightly to give her feline look. She had dimples in both cheeks and two under her full, lush lips.

Georgia Grace never lacked for male attention. Clevus had to threaten the boys away with his shotgun sometimes. Georgia Grace was content with her popularity, and never seemed to have higher ambitions for herself.

Until the Rattlesnake Round-Up of 1967.

Each year, there was a celebration of all things rattler in nearby Bucksnort. It was a great chance to see the varmints up close without stepping on one. Citizens watched in wonder as the rattlesnake wranglers captured, milked, and occasionally got bitten by these reptiles. Vendors sold rattlesnake boots, belt buckles and shirts that had the event name plastered all over the front and back.

You could even, if you had the hankering, buy yourself food that  had at least some rattlesnake in it.

But that year, the Bucksnort town fathers added something different: A beauty contest.

Through some politicking, they even fixed it so that the winner of this beauty/swimsuit/talent competition would qualify to enter the Peanut Festival Pageant in Dothan. From there, the winner could compete in Miss Alabama.

Georgia Grace found out about the contest, and put in to be a part. Her family all tried to talk her out of it. They tenderly tried to explain the kind of girls that would be in the contest. They were experienced pageant contestants, probably first competing while they were still in utero. They walked, talked and dreamed beauty pageants. It was what they lived for.

And not one of them was over 120 pounds.

‘The Vernons tried to explain that the judges at the contest were out of town folks, some of them all the way from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As beautiful as Georgia Grace was, they would not likely see or agree with her view that ‘ bigger was better.’ Her family loved her, and didn’t want Georgia Grace to get her feelings hurt.

Turns out, they shouldn’t have worried. Georgia Grace was strong about what she believed in, and after the Good Lord, what Georgia Grace believed in was herself. If she wanted to do or be something, by heavens it was going to happen, even if she had to shake the earth trying.

The night of the contest, Georgia Grace showed up in her red Buick, right on time. When she stepped out in her robin’s egg blue and sequinned evening gown, a collective gasp came from the crowd. Some wit compared her to the Statue of Liberty. Another person, who’d gone to school at Auburn, disagreed–no–she was like Hera, the queen of Greek goddesses.

Georgia Grace, aka ‘Hera’ took her place amongst all the other contestants. These girls weren’t mean to her because they’d all been hanging out together their whole lives, and they were friends. They also knew that Georgia Grace could pummel them into the pavement if she wanted to, and they all respected that.

The Vernon siblings all showed up and sat on the bleachers that had been built for the event. The M.C, Paul Heckford, who moonlighted as an Elvis impersonator over in Muddy Gully, started announcing the girls.

Beauty after beauty sashayed around, beautifully made gowns showing off all their assets. Clevus hooted at the ones he liked until Eleanor Grace near about knocked him out with her purse.

After she did that, he’d look at the girls, start to open his mouth, look over at his bride, frown and shake his head. Eleanor Grace only had to lift her purse in threat another four or five times.

Georgia Grace took her walk, the stage creaking a bit underneath her. Billy Marler, best friend of Johnny Paul hollered out, “Man, that gal is healthy!”

Next, came the swimsuit competition. The girls all walked in front of the judges, in lovely, sexy creations of virtually every color imaginable. Then, here came Georgia Grace in a Tweety-bird yellow one-piece. It was decorated with lace and buttons and let me tell you, she was stunning.

“Wow, that gal is healthy!” Sam Crittenden, Clevus’s best friend exclaimed. His wife, Fern Ellen followed Eleanor Grace’s lead and raised her purse threateningly.

There was a mixture of shock and delight when Georgia Grace placed in the top five.

The women came back out in their evening gowns to be questioned for the ‘intellectual’ portion of the contest. Paul Heckford faced the excited young women with a gentlemanly, somber gaze.

“Okay, ladies, this is it. Using as much educated language as you can, I’d like you to describe your life’s ambition.”

Sally Fursby, a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like, answered first. “I’d like to create some muffins that we could send everywhere, and if you ate them, you wouldn’t want to have war no more.”

Linda Sue Johnson, who looked something like Jill St. John was also concise in her ambitions. “I want to travel all around the world and teach girls how not to clump up their mascara. Be a beauty consultant to stars and royalty.”

Pollybeth Snooker, sister in law of Suebeth Snooker kept it simple too. “I’d like to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that lasts for ten years and doesn’t need to be stored. No one would ever go hungry again.”

Rochelle Parrish who looked a bit like Minnie Pearl, but had a great body smiled tenderly when her turn came. “I’d like to gestate.” She said.

The Judges (all men) turned bright red, and seemed to choke for a moment. “Can you repeat that ma’m?” M.C. Heckford asked, “Tell us a little bit more about it?”

Rochelle nodded firmly causing her bosoms to rise up and slap her chin. “Gestate. I wanna have lots of babies. I want to gestate.”

M.C. Heckford, looking more flustered nodded. “Well, God bless you Ma’m. I’m sure that is a mighty fine ambition.” He turned to Georgia Grace, who had been patiently waiting for her turn. “Last, but not least, what is your ambition, Miss Vernon?”

Georgia Grace stepped forward, and as she did, Billy Samples started to encourage her by hollering out how healthy she was, but Clevus stomped his foot just in time to make him stop.

“I want to start a restaurant for skinny people,” Georgia Grace stated.  “I think it would be a great success.”

“Explain, Miss Vernon,” one of the judges pressed.

Georgia Grace stepped forward and took the microphone out of Paul Heckford’s trembling hands. “Well you see, I wouldn’t have to have hardly any supplies at all. Whenever you’re out with a thin person and you eat somewhere, they have half a bowl of mashed potatoes and they are ‘totally stuffed.’ Or, they eat a bite of fried chicken and say ‘they just can’t eat another bite.” I could probably feed a hundred of ’em on three cans of beans and a can of English peas.”

Georgia Grace won the pageant hands down.

North, South, East, West and “Heeawaah”


Eulalie Bradshaw grew up in a time when directions, or giving them was fairly simple. Most folks got it, at least if they were from the South. This was before GPS, before print out Google or Bing Maps, and back when even road maps might have been a little hard to find in more rural places. People depended on land-marks, and even the funny story or two. But, to most folks, it was just common sense.

It was like this: The South was where everyone that was worth knowing lived. That’s it. Southerners were the folks who knew the right thing to do, what was important about life, and knew that the war of Northern Aggression had never really ended.

North was where those buzzard bait invading rascals came from that insisted Southerners change everything to suit them. They kept doing it long after the last cannon was heard. Like when this rich Yankee fella came down from New York City and put in what he called a “miniature golf course.”  All of Contentment’s residents came to the grand opening,  just out of curiosity. Because everything was small, They started referring to it as a ‘midget’ golf course.

Then about six months after it opened, the ground opened up and swallowed the whole thing, golf balls and all. It set the poor Yankee fella back some serious cash.

Some said it a natural disaster. Some said it was it was Divine Retribution. You decide.

Regardless, “North” was more than a direction. It was a word that was like asking for a bruising in the wrong gentleman’s club. It was considered a curse word in some polite societies, one to be avoided at all costs.

East, of course, was where the sun rose, and the expected location of Christ’s return.  And West was the place where such scandalous things occurred daily that most of Contentment’s faithful were sure that the Lord’s coming was imminent.

But there was a fifth direction, one that most Contentment fathers used, and used well. It had to be said after clearing ones throat, and making sure you’d spit out your Copenhagen. It had a wonderful, mysterious sound to it, sort of like the sound of prolonged flatulence. That word was the ever-handy, all purpose, “Heeeawaah.” Or, at least that what it would look like if you spelled it phonetically.

For those of you who say there is no such word, well, I don’t have time to fool with you. There is such a word. But it is spelled differently than it sounds. It is spelled “H-E-R-E.”

Clevus Vernon was a master of the word’s usage. One of his 13 kids would be cutting up at the dinner on the grounds, or making a mess of something. Clevus would stand up, tall and terrifying, his straight black hair sticking up like the half Cherokee he was supposed to be, looking like he was about to start scalping somebody. He whip his belt off, the one with the belt buckle with the confederate flag burned into it, and he’d make a snapping sound that rang through the air.

Then he’d look at the offending child and say: “Heeawah!” Pointing to the place where he expected said child to sit, and sit down right then.

This disciplinary tactic was never known to fail.

Later on when Julie-Ann (Vernon) and her husband, Harvey Bradshaw had relatives down from the North to visit, they tried to give them decent, Southern directions. Now these were the same Northern relatives that came down every year, full of fear about all the stereotypes they had heard about the deep South (and this was before the movie “Deliverance.”) Get them off an interstate and they became part of the trembling helpless who needed to be rescued.

Still, Harvey, by then a veteran of Southern life, would try to give them easy instructions.

It would go like this: You got off exit 45 near Melburn and the Robert E. Lee statue and you went about ten miles. You then turned off on Berry Newman Farm Road, but you had to look hard for the sign because some kids had shot it up and it was kind of hard to read.

Then, you’d go down that road for awhile, take the 2nd fork, and you’d see Buster Wambles Bait and Tackle Shop and Quick-Treat restaurant. This was by the covered bridge that looked like it wanted to give way, but hadn’t in a real long time.

Once you got over that bridge was Contentment’s town limits, and Harvey would be waiting for them in his  Impala at the City Hall. The City Hall couldn’t be missed because it was by Old Lady Parrish’s house, and she had a clothes line in the front yard, of all things, and usually had her drawers or her husband Ernie’s boxers hanging from it.

However, if you ended up on the road with the collection of Miller cans, next to the hound dog that never seemed to move, with the trailer with the “George Wallace for President” sign in the window, you’d gone too far.

Needless to say, these kind, naive folks always had to be ‘led’ in, whimpering and trembling, claiming to have just seen a Bigfoot or a Klansman before they found a place that had a pay-phone so they could call Harvey and say they were lost.

It was a part of the culture, one that everyone in Mulberry County and Contentment always accepted. One that everyone, unless you were a hapless visitor, understood and took for granted.

 

 

The courtship of Chewy’s father


Hank Moses was in trouble, and he knew it.

He’d spent nearly forty years of his life as a single man, most of it living in a trailer his Mama, Joy-Ann had left him. The last five years as the proud father of Chewy, a harmless looking tan chihuahua.

They had their routine down pat. Each day, He’d have his coffee first, scan the Montgomery Advertiser that landed promptly on his porch at 6 a.m., and tell Chewy that he loved him, and to be a very good chihuahua while he was gone. Then he’d take off in his weathered green Plymouth Valiant to Sonny Treadway’s lumberyard where many men in the county that were his age worked.

After his day of labor, he’d stop at the Howling at the Moon Club, watch the dancers for a while, have a beer or two, and before he got too liquored up, would head for home. Chewy would be waiting at home anxious for his treat of a half can of Vienna Sausages. The other half of the can would be for Hank.

They would get up  in Hank’s Lazy-boy recliner, and they’d watch the news from WTVY in Dothan. Then, they might watch (depending on the reception and the night) Star Trek, Bonanza or Gunsmoke. Supper was simple, something that Hank dumped into a fry-pan and browned, or an uncomplicated mix of rice, hash, hamburger meat, or some kind of beans, all cooked half to death on top of his stove. Chewy would get his Mighty Dog and both would be content.

Then, it was time for bed.

This routine rarely varied, and both human and canine were happy with it.

Until Georgia Grace Vernon got involved.

George Grace was something of a Mulberry County celebrity, at least after she won the Rattlesnake Round-up pageant and then nearly won the beauty contest at the Peanut Festival. The county was proud of her–all five hundred pounds of her, with her beaming Pepsodent smile and her hearty back-slap, even if Georgia Grace didn’t always know her own strength.

Though Georgia Grace had many suitors, she had never been in love. When it happened for her, it happened BIG.

She saw Hank over at Morty English’s filling station, holding Chewy with one hand, and scratching a mosquito bite on his neck with the other.  Hank was about 129 pounds soaking wet, and that day, it wasn’t raining. So he was more like 125. So this very small man and this very large lady set eyes on each other (she saw him first) and the world was never going to be the same after that.

Georgia Grace had found the man who she planned would father her babies.

Hank found out his part in Georgia Grace’s plans later, and it nearly scared him to death.

Hank’s mother had been a bit overbearing, and on the large side herself. She’d kept her boy under her thumb until she breathed her last. And Hank, loving his Mama as he might, had enjoyed being woman-free the last five years. He didn’t want to give it up for anything.

Georgia Grace put her plan into action almost immediately. Step one–surveillance. She became the shadow Hank didn’t know he had. Suddenly, she was nearly every where he stepped. If he went to Mort’s for gas or an oil change, she was in the line right behind him. If he was at work, he’d see her driving by in her red Buick a few times a day. He knew this because her car was about the only one that came around the lumber yard with a woman in it. And also because she always hit the horn, hard and hollered out his name.

It didn’t take Hank long to understand his peril.

He at first, tried to nicely side-step her, nodding in a flustered, gentlemanly fashion when she’d pass by. He had no intention of giving up his freedom. He liked women, at least the women he liked to look at when he went to the Howling at the Moon Club, but they were liked at a distance. He was sky, socially awkward, and really didn’t see himself as much of a catch.

Georgia Grace did, however, and he was to be HER catch. She talked about him to her sister-in-law Eleanor Grace until she was ready to have the heaves. No one had bluer eyes than Hank. No one managed to comb his quickly thinning brown hair in such a handsome fashion. To hear Georgia Grace tell it, Hank was, the epitome of all a man should be, in a slender, sweet package.

Eleanor Grace tried to help her. When Hank came through her line at the Hoggly Woggly, she’d pretty much broach the topic on a regular basis:

EG: “Hank, you know you sure are a handsome fella. If I wasn’t happy with Clevus, I’d chase you right down.”

Hank: (a bright shade of vermilion) “Why thank you, Eleanor Grace, but I don’t know what Clevus would do if he heard you say that.” He’d then chuckle nervously and wonder why it was taking so long to get bacon, Pine-Sol, some light bread, and Gale Gorman’s ‘He-Man Shaving Cream” rung up. Alas, there really wasn’t another grocery store within a 20 mile radius at the time.

EG: “Well, let’s don’t worry about him. What I’m trying to tell you, is there is a fine gal that has taken a shine to you, she just worships the ground you walk on.”

Hank (getting more nervous) “Well, thank you again, Eleanor Grace, but I’m not in the market for a girlfriend right now. If I ever am, I’ll sure give Georgia Grace a call.” He would then pay quickly and skittle out of the store like he owed someone money.

He was a man pursued. Not just by Georgia Grace, but now by her immediate family.

He’d go into the bank, and Clevus would leave his plush office, rise to his alarming former linebacker height of 6 foot 5, and heartily back slap Hank nearly into the next room. Truth to be told, Georgia Grace had learned most of her manners from Clevus.

He would point out the mini-shrine that he’d put up at the bank, detailing Georgia Grace’s beauty pageant wins, speeches, and singing debut at Posh Corner in Birming ham after she won the Rattlesnake Roundup. For the centerpiece, Clevus had huge color, blow-up pictures of his little sister in her crown, finery and sequins. In line with the theme, she was standing next to two tough looking characters carefully holding live rattlers. The whole effect nearly moved folks to tears.

Every time poor Hank went there, he was led to the shrine and told to look at it. “A man could do a whole lot worse than marry my sister, Hank.” Clevus would say, his grip on the small man’s shoulder tightening ever so slightly. “And to be in our family. We’ve been here since they kicked us out of Savannah in the 1850’s. A proud heritage. A good name.”

Poor Hank was thinking about selling everything and joining the merchant marines when the worst possible thing happened. Georgia Grace started coming to his church.

There were two main churches in Contentment, both in perpetual rivalry with one another, very willing to sheep-steal at any opportunity. Both churches would tell you earnestly that the royal road to salvation started and stopped at their door, forget the pesky bit about accepting Jesus. No one did it better than them.

Hank went to the Presbyterian Church. It was old, sort of formal, where nothing unusual ever happened. The members of the church just wouldn’t have had it. They were the more monied bunch, staid, well-dressed, a bit stuck up, but in a well-intended kind of way. Hank had been brought up there, after all, and his Mama’s funeral had been held there. The fact that he owned his trailer and Plymouth out right was a plus. He was their kind of people.

Georgia Grace went with her family to Brother Holland’s Church of God church. Clevus went there too. He’d tried to worship with the Presbyterians, but got disgusted with them pretty quick. They would have been glad to have him, him being the bank president and all, but Clevus thought that they just didn’t take their worship seriously. They didn’t have a single altar call, or a tearful re-dedication with all the gory details of past sins committed. Their preacher, John Termins, had the audacity to not let folks call him ‘brother,’ insisting on them calling him Pastor.

Clevus didn’t feel like that church was any fun at all. So, he and Eleanor Grace (when she would go to church) would take their growing herd of offspring to Brother Holland’s church where they felt like worship really happened.

So, it was a shock to all when Georgia Grace started attending the Church of the Divine Lamb where Hank went. Upsetting, even.

The matrons twittered about her being ‘after’ Hank, and they had good reason to whisper. Georgia Grace was many things, but ‘subtle’ was not written into her book. She would come in dressed in yards of pastel lace, looking very pretty, mind you, and plop down on the other side of same pew where Hank was sitting. Hank would pretend not to notice.

As Sundays went on, the whole church got concerned. Pastor would be preaching a gentle sermon, telling the whole congregation that they were the finest people imaginable, which had Georgia Grace in confusion. By now, Brother Holland would have gotten worked up and be blasting his folks left and right, telling them that he knew they were sorrier than mud, and had better ‘get right’ or be left. But Georgia Grace had a goal in mind, and it was the sweet, shy, slightly dozing man down the pew, who kept one eye sort of open to monitor her behavior during the sermon.

After this had been going on for about four months, Georgia Grace was just plain frustrated with Hank. She’d asked him out, offered to cook all sorts of delicious food for him, even bought a nice plaid flea collar for Chewy. Hank nicely refused all of it. She started writing him poetry, mailing it to the trailer. If he read it, he never  said. He just started trembling when he saw her.

She wasn’t a gal to give up, so that day, she looked around to her left and right, and then stood up, and took a big side-step over in the pew to where Hank, now totally awake, sat. He gently slid down a bit, closer to the end of the pew. Georgia Grace wasn’t going to take that. She again got up and slid a little closer. Hank slid a little further down. Georgia Grace moved again.

Hank was looking petrified. The sermon was droning on, but nobody was really listening anymore. Georgia Grace moved, Hank moved away. Til there was nowhere to move. Georgia Grace sat down, hard on the pew next to Hank, so hard that the pew made a noisy sound as it settled back down. They were thigh to thigh now, and there was no way of stopping it.

Content that her prey had been cornered, she then proceeded to wait until the church greeted each other, and turned to Hank and nearly hugged the stuffing out of the small man. Hank, gasping, patted her back and looked around at his fascinated church family as if to say, silently, “It ain’t me, it’s her.”

At the service’s end, he practically ran out of the holy building.

The next few Sundays, it continued like this. Georgia Grace would play hard to get at first by sitting on the far end of the pew, but then would get impatient, and thump, thump, thump, start moving closer in loud increments. The poor pastor was beside himself. No one was listening to him anymore, despite how he piled his compliments on. The folks were watching Georgia Grace’s determined courtship like a bad car accident.

It was better than watching wrestling down at the farm center. Only, no one was faking anything here. Georgia Grace was determined, and Hank Moses was defending his bachelorhood as best as he could.

Then, one Sunday, she wasn’t there. Hank looked around, waiting for her to commandeer and start annexing the space between them, like Hitler moving closer to Poland. But, she never showed up. Hank went from relieved to worried fairly quickly. Was Georgia Grace ill?

Another Sunday passed, and no Georgia Grace. Hank had noticed other things too. He used to not be able to peel her off him, now she was never around. Not driving by his work, not in line near him at the Hoggly Woggly. Not sitting behind him in the movie theater. He knew she still lived in Contentment, but for all intents and purposes, she had evaporated, which is awfully hard for a 500 pound woman to do.

Eventually, he asked Clevus about it. Clevus looked at him as if he were an untrustworthy bank customer trying to get a loan. “Well, you missed the boat, son. Georgia Grace has done got her another man.”

And sure enough, she had. She was dating Travis Hitchcock on a regular basis. After awhile, it was Hank looking for her, not the opposite.  It wasn’t easy, because Georgia Grace often made Travis take her out of town, to Dothan or some big city like that. Hank, scratching his thinning hair, would put Chewy in the Valiant, and follow them around. One time, he saw Travis give Georgia Grace a healthy good-night kiss at Aunt Ginny’s house, and his heart sunk.

Everyone was shocked when Hank showed up at Brother Hollands church. Travis wasn’t there that day. He’d thrown a drunk of major proportions with his twin brother Ricky, and they were in no shape the following morning for worship. Georgia Grace sat in lovely white lace, all by her lonesome in the church pew, waiting for the rest of the Vernons to join her.

Hank, with a determined look on his face, sat down at the other side of the pew. Georgia was surprised, but was determined not to show it. Clevus came in, and seeing the dynamic, wisely sat behind the pair. The rest of the family, including Aunt Ginny, all followed suit, leaving Georgia Grace and Hank the only ones in that pew.

Brother Holland got started early that morning, determined to tell everyone there that they were a sorry sack of dirt and that the Devil wanted each one of them in hell. Half way through the sermon, Hank got up, and moved down the pew towards her.  He sat down hard, making a thumping sound that got some attention away from the good pastor. Brother Holland changed gears and started describing what hell would be like for the no-goods filling his church. Hank moved again.

This time, he was a quarter of the way away from Georgia Grace. This time, she had to take notice. She looked at him, and gave him a polite smile. Hank, wearing his Aqua-Velva for courage, and his best navy blue leisure suit, gave her a provocative wink.

People lost interest in hell and were riveted on what was happening in pew 13, center row. Georgia looked back at Brother Holland, who had no idea that folks weren’t listening to him, and pretended to be fascinated by the gory horrors he was hollering about. Right then, Hank stood up, and plopped right down next to Georgia Grace.

He proposed on the spot.

Georgia Grace let Travis down easily, and quickly married Hank. Turned out that the pair could not have children, but they did find Chewy a mate, a gray chihuahua named Hilda. The two dogs were prolific, and even now, I bet you could find a pup with some of their blood in it if you were in Mulberry County.

This was the beginning of many wedded adventures for the young couple. And Chewy, once he got used to his new, big “Mama”, felt like his human Daddy had made a pretty good choice.

 

The Bride


By Laura Kathryn Rogers

I resented getting the assignment.

After all, I, Lawrence Fishbien, was a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist. At 62, I was regularly beating out much younger reporters for choice assignments all over the world. I might have not been the most handsome or youthful, but I was one of the best.

The assignment was in Italy, and it was all-expense paid. It was in Tuscany, a part of the country that I’d never experienced. There would be time after the interview was wrapped up to be a tourist. Maybe find a gorgeous young Italian girl with lots of charm and no inhibitions. Why would I resent an assignment with such potential rewards?

The assignment smacked of tabloid news. I’d interviewed presidents, rock stars, even the Queen of England. I’d broke exclusives on world news. Yet, they were sending me to see a 92-year- old woman in an obscure village.

Simply because she claimed to be the bride of Christ.

Tabloid stuff, I tell you. Tabloid.

Of course there were the tales that sprang from the village–how the woman never seemed to age, how people had been healed after spending time with her, how when she walked in the most heavy storm, the rain fell all around her, but never touched her body.

I wondered as I spent a restless 18-hour flight to Italy, if this was the beginning of the end. When you got assigned stories like this, it usually meant that there was blood in the water. The sharks were circling. Being stuck with reporting what Jerry Springer eats for breakfast could not be far off.

We touched down, and I was grouchy, exhausted, and I wanted a drink. The village was rustic, and didn’t seem to have any of the charms of Manhattan, where I lived and from where I based my work.

I barely identified their one lodging place, which called itself the equivalent of a hotel, but mostly looked like a large mass of bricks and thatch, miles away from Florence or any other location that a sensible person would like to visit. I had noted, as we drove to the town, about ten meters from Alberese, that large herds of wild horses and cows freely roamed the area.

The air smelled sweet. I noted grape vineyards, and many small, neat plots of vegetables. People worked, but it was a casual kind of labor, as if they were in a hurry for nothing. The people at my accommodations greeted me with a casual curiosity, but nothing more. Looking around, I was struck with the sense of going back in time, maybe even to medieval times. I was brought to my room, told about meal times, and left alone.

That evening, even my journalist instincts were put on hold, as I lay down on the surprisingly comfortable bed, and fell asleep almost instantly. When I woke,  it was mid-morning. I opened a window and stood, looking out. From a distance, I heard a lilting song, very beautiful, feminine and moving. Was it from the local church parish? I could not be sure.

A knock interrupted my musing. The man at the door was very slender and tall, his face a mass of sharp points, high cheek-bones and bushy dark eye-brows. He spoke excellent English, which was just as well, because the most Italian I knew was a few swear words that I doubted would be appropriate.

“I am Stefano Pieri, the guide the Times paid for,” He said, “I’m supposed to take you to Sister Maria. She’s willing to spend an hour talking to you, no more.” He seemed in a hurry to go. “You are fortunate. She usually turns strangers away, at least ones with paper and pens.” He gave me a wolfish grin, and gestured towards the doorway. “Are we ready?”

I decided we were. On the way out, we were offered warm cloth-covered items that smelled wonderful. As I got in Stefano’s vehicle, an ancient gray Jeep, I opened the cloth and found fresh pastry covered with what appeared to be honey.

I took a bite, and all the food I’d ever eaten faded into memory. This was like some food of the gods. Stefano grinned again (the man grinned too much in my opinion) as he saw me savor this food, and handed me a bottle of warm liquid. It was wine, of course, and the warmth of it did not take away from the taste. It was sweet and sharp all at the same time.  “See, we do some things right,” He said,  “Maybe not New York City, but we hold our own.”

I felt a bit ashamed. Was my initial disdain so obvious? I swallowed a bite of my excellent breakfast and cleared my throat. “I’ve never had anything so wonderful.” I said, honestly.

Stefano nodded. “The village women are up before sunrise, baking for their families and the village guests. Some of the recipes have been handed down from mother to daughter for centuries.”

He then settled into a satisfied kind of silence, navigating the increasingly rough road leaving the village and headed up into the mountains nearby. I wasn’t much of a talker by nature, but had picked up the habit of small talk in my noisy home city. Years there had made me see silence as an enemy. However, in this quiet, pastoral place, a sense of peace filled me, and I felt no need to speak.

Time passed. Miles were covered, and finally Stefano spoke.

“So what would you like to know?” He asked. “About Sister Maria, that is. You haven’t asked the usual questions. Why we honor her. What she claims to be. The basis of her claim.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Honestly, I am not sure what I want to know, which is unusual. Normally I’d have a few pages of notes. She thinks she is the bride of Christ. Back in my neighborhood, we’d call that a nun. What’s so special about that?”

Stefano laughed sharply. “Sister Maria is so much more than a nun. She can heal by touching you. Any wild creature that comes within sight of her immediately becomes docile, and allows themselves to be touched. When we had a drought, three years ago, she asked for it to be lifted, and it was.”

“Who did she ask?” I said and noticed an expression of exaggerated patience on my guide’s face.

“Who do you think, Man? Her husband of course.”

“You mean Jesus Christ.” I say. He nods. “Wouldn’t that be kind of difficult? Didn’t he ascend upstairs about 2000 years ago?”

“Sometimes he comes back.” Stefano said shortly. “I’ve never seen it, but there are many stories. The cave dwellers talk about it. Do you know, that even now there are those who would rather live in a cave than in a house?”

He turned on a very rocky one-lane road, and we jolted in our seats as he took sharp turns expertly. “The old ones talk about her as well.  I’ve only seen her a few times. She looks the same as when I was a young boy. She never changes.”

He stopped the jeep where the road became a trail. “This is where we walk. It’s not too much further.”

I had brought the small remains of my breakfast with me, and the small cask of wine, which revived me as I walked next to my guide. Just as I started to be winded, we came out into a circular clearing. There were half a dozen provincial looking thatch cottages, a  central fire-pit in the middle and several little children running around, playing the whooping and gleeful games of childhood.

The adults, mostly women, ignored us, as if everyday they saw a strange American and his guide. Finally, the oldest woman, with a face so crisscrossed with age that her features seemed to sink into the wrinkles, approached us. Her eyes, bright blue (the only youthful thing about her), lit up at the sight of Stefano.

“This is the one you told me about, is it?” She asked, her voice heavily accented, but understandable. “Sister is….over there. She is waiting. But she wants to see the stranger alone.”

I went the way that she pointed, to a cottage that was slightly larger than the others but not more ornate. On either side of the doorway, I noted a thriving vegetable garden. And coming from the hut, I heard the song again, the one I had heard that morning down in the village. The same pure, feminine voice. Could a song travel that far? Or, had the singer been in the village this morning?

I felt the urge to knock on the simple door, but before I could, a voice summoned me. The voice of the singer.

I was speechless when I saw her. The girl who summoned me looked to be in her early 20’s and was beautiful in the way that Aphrodite might have been. She had her long, black hair rolled into an intricate style on her head. Her olive skin was lush, free of any indication of age. Her eyes were bright and intuitive. I waited for her to take me to Sister Maria, but wouldn’t have minded if she delayed that a bit.

“You are the stranger, the one who wants to know me.” She said, simply.

I nearly choked on nothing. “You are supposed to be….are you….her?”

A faint smile played about well-shaped lips that lipstick had never touched, and had never needed to. This was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

“I am 92 years old. And yes, I said I wanted to meet you alone. I am Sister Maria.”

It’s hard to remember a lot of that first visit. She talked, I listened, but mostly I drank in her beauty, the cadence of her lovely voice, the gentle, yet powerful way she had about her. She talked about her life there, her daily work within the village, her singing which summoned villagers to vespers. The only subject we didn’t discuss was the one that I’d been sent to ask about.

Finally, it was she, not I, that brought it up.

“You have been told about my special….relationship.” She said, simply. I nodded. “You want to know what it means.” I nodded again, feeling a superstitious thrill rising up in me.

“I was the daughter of a shepherd. Papa has been dead so many years. He was a wonderful man. Very stern, but he wanted his daughter to be pure, and with a spotless reputation. Mother taught me to read and write. Father taught me how to plant a garden and sew. I was their only child and they cherished me.”

“Many young men came to visit to ask for my hand, but my parents refused them all. Eventually they stopped coming. Mama died, then Papa. I was alone in our little hut, but I had everything I needed. I raised and harvested my food. Papa had left me some gold coins. I sold wool from the sheep. It was a joyful life.”

“One day, I was out with the sheep and was sleepy, gathering flowers. I sat under a tree and napped. I dreamed of a young man, the most handsome one that I ever had seen. His eyes were full of love, he had a light about his face. He said to me, “I choose you.”

“When I awoke, the sheep were all around me, lying down, peaceful and all accounted for. At my feet was a banquet of fruit and vegetables. There was a chalice of sweet wine. I ate, and refreshed myself. Then, I noticed. On my hand, there was this ring.”

She stretched out a beautiful, youthful looking hand, and I saw a delicate, exquisitely carved silver wedding ring.

Sister Maria continued to speak. “After that, people would come to me. Some were ill. Some were lonely. Some were angry. They would sit with me, and I would talk to them. I would look at my ring and know what to say. Or as they were leaving, I would touch their hands and they would immediately recover.”

“Over the years, he comes to me. We have wonderful talks. He sings songs of love to me. I sing to him in reply. What you heard before you came in, that’s the newest song I composed.”

“So, why have you never aged? I asked. “You’re supposed to be 92.”

“Yes.” She said simply. “After his visits, I wake up feeling renewed. “I suppose I need to be. The people keep coming, just like you did.” She leaned close, her breath making me think of the scent of roses. “What is your need?” She asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t think I have one. Except to bring back a good story. I think my supervisors took this story too literally. You said you dreamed of Christ. They thought you had a relationship with the real guy, outside of dreams.”

“I do.” She said, sweetly. “Maybe I should be more clear. I sometimes call them dreams, because I really can’t give you a word for what they really are. When he visits, he surrounds me, with light, joy, with love. He tells me about the people who will come to me and what they will need. He told me about you. He even told me that you would have too much pride to ask for the help you need.”

She then grabbed my hand nearest to her, and I felt a shock like electricity, but not painful. She closed her eyes and the room suddenly seemed brighter. She began to sing. I tried to get loose, but her grip was too firm to break.

Memories surged through my mind. My divorce, my distant relationship with my two sons, my feeling of separation and meaningless striving. My fear of coming age and possible dependence on a world that could be cruel. I felt it all, and heard myself cry out, tears pouring down my face.

Then, Sister Maria let go.

For a second, I saw a very old woman in front of me, ancient beyond ancient, fragile. Then the light again brightened, burning at my eyes. I shut them tight, and backed into the opening of the hut. The sensation of light faded. I opened my eyes. The young, beautiful woman was back.

“When you go back to the village, you are to call your sons. They will listen to you. They will no longer be bitter. Call your wife. She has forgiven you. And…..when you go home, go to your doctor. I think he will tell you the ulcer is gone.” She smiled warmly. “Go now…go in peace.”

I found Stefano playing in the clearing with the young children, chasing them, letting them chase him. He looked at me, and for a moment, had an expression of concern. “Can you eat something?” He asked. I looked at him, dumb for a moment. “Of course. Thank you.”

We ate panzella, drank more of the delicious wine. I had a feeling inside of me akin to excitement. My body was tingling with energy that I had never felt before. We said goodbye to the villagers, and rode down the mountain in silence.

When I got back to my room, I went to wash the dust from my face. I dropped my washcloth when I saw my reflection in the mirror. I had came to Tuscany with a full head of silver hair, my face showing the march of time. The man that looked at me from the mirror had the dark brown hair of my youth. The face was that of the same young man.

I sat down, weak, from the surprise of it all, and tried to figure it out. Something had happened up there with Sister Maria, something. I remembered what she had said to me, and knew that I had to follow her instructions. I picked up the phone and made three calls.

The following day, I should have been writing my article about Sister Maria. I could not. I sat outside my lodging place and contently watched the village go about its business.  I thought about the night before. My sons and I had talked. We covered years of parental neglect and their resentment. I asked their forgiveness, they surprised me by agreeing to give it. We made plans for when I would return. I would meet my grandchildren for the first time.

My ex-wife had told me that she still loved me, and wanted us to meet for a meal and conversation. I agreed. When I lay down to sleep, it was easy, deep sleep. I woke in the morning with a refreshment I had never felt before.

There was enough for an amazing story, but the problem was, convincing my audience. If I did straight reporting, it would still sound like science fiction. I was known for my hard-hitting factual journalism. I knew that this story had to have further verification.

I had to go back.

Later, that afternoon, without contacting Stefano, I borrowed a sturdy truck with four-wheel drive, and headed out of the village. It was nearly nightfall before I reached the path where I had to walk. This time, the place had many people, and they all seemed to notice and gawk at me. The formerly friendly old woman who had greeted us before, came up to me with a stern look on her face. “Why are you here?” She asked.

“I want to see Sister Maria.” I insisted.

“No, no. You had your time with her. She can’t help you anymore. It is forbidden.”

Nothing I said would move her. She allowed me to sleep there for the evening, stating that trying to get back to the village at night could get me lost or worse. I settled into a comfortable pallet, having been fed an excellent supper of goat’s milk, sweet wine and Pappa el papdormo. I slept almost immediately.

I awoke much later. Darkness and silence were all around me like a thick blanket. The fire was down to coals in the center of the settlement. Yet, something woke me. Was it a song?

Yes, it was a song, the one I heard in the village and later when I met Sister Maria. When I stood there, looking about, the song faded. Was it a dream?

I walked softly to the doorway of Sister Maria. Gently, I tried the door. It opened easily.

When the door opened, I was stunned with the presence of intense light. But, a different light than what I recalled. This light enfolded a very old woman, who seemed to have difficulty standing up. She stood in a nightgown, arms outstretched. The shape of another individual stood next to her, reaching to take her into an embrace.

As I stared, the shape took on further human form. I saw that it was the form of the young man she had described to me.

“It is time, my beloved.” He said to Sister Maria, stepping back and touching her face tenderly. Her countenance began to change. She was once again the young girl, the ageless beauty.

“But who will do my work?” She asked the young man, who looked at her intently, gentleness on his face.

“Another will be chosen. It’s time to come home, my bride.”

I couldn’t have moved if I wanted to. I stood transfixed as the young man and Sister Maria rose from the ground, maintained their places in midair for a moment, and finally both took notice of me.

Sister Maria was not angry for the invasion of her privacy. “Tomorrow, they will find that I’ve disappeared,” She said. “Tell no one what you have seen.”

I gulped out agreement, and they began to fade away until only the light in the room remained. Then, that also faded.

I went back to New York the following day. Met with my sons. Had dinner with my ex-wife. Made an appointment with my doctor, who couldn’t believe the way I looked thirty years younger. The way my ulcer had seemed to disappear.

I never completed the article. Ultimately, to keep from being in a lawsuit, I repaid the paper the expenses of the trip. By that time, I’d re-married my wife, had retired, and was watching my youngest grandchildren frolic at a beach house I’d invested in years before, but had never used. Until now.

And, as time went by, whenever I thought about the trip and the events which occurred, and remembered Sister Maria, all I could think of was how beautiful she was.

I should, however, say one last thing.

About a year later, going through the Sunday newspaper, I read a human interest story. About a young woman living in rural Oklahoma. Recently, a number of miracles had been attributed to her.

The people living around her, didn’t call her by her name, but simply, “the Bride.”

The Silencing of America


 

 

statue_of_liberty_mouth_taped-620x412

I’m a bit scared as I write this. So, in effect, I’ve been silenced too.

In just the last few months, I have heard of documented accounts of people being punished by governmental authorities, by their supervisors, or being shunned because they expressed an opposing political opinion.

I am a single woman who needs my job to survive. I’ve been homeless, more than once. I do not want to live that life ever again.

So, I have a lot to lose by angering the wrong person. Yet, still, I write my opinions. In blogs, captions, and commentary.

When I DO write it is usually posted on a Facebook page secured so that only my friends will see it.

However, my blog is out there for everyone to see.  That makes me a bit nervous.

What if my blog gets in the hands of someone with enough political power to negatively impact me on the job?

As much as I often get called a ‘bleeding heart’ by my fiscally conservative boss, I do have some moderate views. Even some pretty conservative ones. They pop up now and again, when my triggers get pushed.

I have liked and supported Republicans. Even voted for a few.

For example, I loved Bob Dole. Okay, he’s the only one I can think of–but he was a Republican.

I stunned my fellow bleeding hearts in Florida when I requested time off to go see Mr. Dole at a campaign rally in Panama City, Florida. I got teased a bit. Regardless, I went.

I was a bit nonplussed by Dole standing on the platform and yelling at a bunch of well-fed, screaming, Caucasian yuppies “It’s your money!”

He wouldn’t have been a Republican if he hadn’t said that.

And, not everyone jumped up and cheered. Me, being one. But no one gave me the side-eye for not doing so. I guess it was assumed that if I had been supporting Clinton, I would not have been there.

Years before, I was at a George Bush rally in my very conservative home town of Ozark, Alabama. I had pretty much been dragged there by my biological mother, who loved any chance she could get to be in the ‘in’ crowd. This was shortly after the first Gulf War started.

I already privately doubted the ‘good’ motives for this war, and wondered (along with my very liberal fiancé) if this was not more about oil than human rights.

I was still strongly under my biological mother’s thumb, however, beholden to her financially as well as in a co-dependently emotional fashion. So, I went.

The meeting organizers passed out flags, and the speakers whipped the crowd into a ‘patriotic’ frenzy.

I held the flag, but didn’t wave it. My biological mother, determined to keep up appearances, snarled at me, “Wave that flag!”

I snarled back that I was an adult, and she could no longer tell me what to do. She backed off.

Yet, in this crowd of over-excited and under-informed people, I felt definitely silenced. If I had spoken up, I would likely have been shouted down by some Billy-Bob spewing the 90’s equivalent of “Make America Great Again.”

Prior to that, I  had a college professor whose views I found to be alarming. She was a proud fascist who called herself a ‘socialist.’ However, there was none of the love and good intentions (with which I’ve come to view socialism) present.

She tried to pit classmate against classmate; race against race. When I wrote a paper with the opposite view, she gave me a “D” and wrote that “you better cool down your fire and get with the program.’

Needing that class for the general studies part of my degree, I cooled down.

I let my spirit be broken out of fear, at least for a time. I showed up at class the minimum times I could and still pass. I sat there and read my textbook or worked on creative writing rather than participated. I passed and never took a class she taught again.

These experiences are about being silenced.

The message, increasingly thrust out today, is one of great concern for our democracy.

Liberty, throughout the ages, has been bought with blood, sweat and sacrifice. Some people have risked all to defend the individual freedom to say what they wish. Even if the howling (seeming majority) seem to be in total disagreement.

However, in this age of “MAGA”, I find that more of the people around me (myself included),  are thinking and then re-thinking about what they write or say before they write or say it.

Or, they are simply throwing up their hands in resignation.

Trump is our current leader, like it or not. Never mind how he has diminished the image of the president’s office. He has called former female employees ‘dogs.’ He acknowledges that it is wrong, but doesn’t apologize.

Never mind that Putin loves him, likely because he knows how easily he can manipulate him (with Trump telling himself that he’s walked away the winner.)

Never mind that people who once would have never dared utter racial epithets, now do so freely–because they no longer feel ‘silenced.’ There is a type of ‘silencing’ that can be just–when a evil voice is made quiet. But somehow, in the partisan climate which our nation now lives, when does ‘good’ silencing happen, and when does ‘bad’ silencing take over?

This is America. Our country was founded over 200 years ago to allow freedom, as long as that freedom isn’t harmful to others. The freedom to practice one’s first amendment rights shouldn’t be tampered by someone shouting ‘fake’ just because the truth is inconvenient, or because it hurts their narcissistic view of themselves.

It’s a different world than when I grew up.

I  don’t think we have the liberty we had 30, or even 20 years ago. Some of us have given it up for the luxury of a good paying job, three square meals and a comfortable place to lay our heads. Some of us no longer believe that speaking up will do any good. A few have become so cynical about our government that they tell themselves that they no longer care.

A few fight on, like the pioneers before them, willing to risk all to preserve their right to express themselves forthrightly, even if it means pointing out that the current emperor is both blind and naked.

I would like to be more like those few, remaining patriots, and not be silenced anymore.

Still, the fear remains.

What price am I willing to pay?