Category Archives: Family

Dogs – Life’s Companions – Part 2 – Mili and Heidi

img_0496    It took a full year of mourning before Pat and I could consider another dog. Again we looked to the Watauga Humane Society shelter for an adoption. Pat made the heart connection to a small Pekingese-type female who had a distinctive under bite. As we processed the adoption, the shelter manager informed us that our new dog had been diagnosed with third-stage heartworms. Our adoption would require us to see the little princess through a risky two-stage treatment to kill the heartworms. We were warned that some dogs do not survive the treatment, which necessitated two extended periods of guarded non-activity. We accepted the responsibility and named our new family member Mili after a close veterinary doctor friend who had helped us care for Angel.

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Mili

Mili came through the heartworm treatment, and her personality emerged as a feisty little girl who was not easily affectionate. She nevertheless became Pat’s shadow as if she recognized the person who had chosen to save her. Mili regained her strength, energy, and endurance and became Pat’s companion on five-mile hikes from Bass Lake to the Moses Cone Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Our long-haired friend was never a lap dog. She rather had an almost cat-like posture of independence. Mili soon settled into our household routine as Pat and I worked the literary life from our home office. None of us expected the arrival of a second dog.

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I was sitting on the bench rocker across from Angel’s shrine when a medium-size, tan, short hair female hound-like dog came down our street and shyly entered our front yard. I spoke a greeting to her, and she approached and then jumped up on the bench beside me. I reached out to pet her, and she put her head onto my lap. That was the scene that Pat witnessed when she pulled into our semi-circular front driveway. We both had questions concerning our collarless visitor who demonstrated a sweet, affectionate disposition. We fed and watered her, but we would not take her into the house for fear of Mili’s reaction. Then with night coming, I retrieved a large travel kennel from storage and fitted it with blankets to warm the dog against an early spring chill. The kennel was placed outside our front door on a covered porch.

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Heidi on a mountain hike

The next day, Pat began to search for the strayed dog’s owner. She did all the responsible things including posted and email notices, and “lost dog” newspaper ads, with no results. Pat then advised me that the dog’s teats indicated that she was pregnant or that she had recently had puppies. Her pregnancy was later confirmed when we took her for a vet examination. As the weeks passed, we were drifting into the “strayed and stayed” dog care category. When a freeze warning was issued for our area, we decided to bring the new dog, whom we had identified as a mountain feist breed, off the porch and into the house.

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Heidi and her litter of pups

The critical moment arrived as Mili confronted the new arrival. Mili may have smelled the vulnerability of the pregnant visitor whose size was not overwhelming and allowed the intrusion. Thus a new dog bed was provided for the stray that stayed, and she was named Heidi. Within a few weeks, Heidi birthed five puppies in our living room, with Mili in curious attendance. When the puppies were mature, they went for quick adoption at the Humane Society, but Heidi was too closely involved with us to go with them.

Mili and Heidi were frequent visitors to the Humane Society’s Arko Dog Park. Heidi was very social and ran free with the other dogs. Mili stayed close to Pat and could even dissuade a Great Dane who wanted to sniff her. Mili and Heidi were a pair of odd step-sisters.heidi-and-mili-2

The first time Heidi was taken on a hike, it was apparent that she had not been trained on a leash. She proved to be, however, a lovable companion who liked to be covered with a blanket when on the sofa or in her bed. No one could approach the house without Heidi sounding the alert. Mili would join the outcry, but Heidi got credit for being the major watchdog.

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Mili had been with us eleven years when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Our dearest friend, Tennessee veterinarian Mildred Bass, monitored the surgery progress and the subsequent holistic treatment, but our little feisty friend could not beat the cancer. Brave and remarkably active, she survived seven months longer than the surgeon’s most optimistic expectations. Pat’s constant care and Mili Bass’s recommended herbal medications, we feel, extended her life, and when she passed, it was mercifully only after a few hours of distress on her final day following her visit to the dog park. For weeks after, Heidi searched the house for Mili every time that Pat and I called her to go out.

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There is the possibility that we will outlive Heidi and that her loss will be another mournful event. Her cremated remains will be added to those of Angel and Mili on our property, and we will miss her. The emptiness of the house, however, will lead us back to the Humane Society shelter to find another dog companion. There are both responsibility and cost involved in living with a dog, but even as septuagenarians, we want to share our home with a four-legged friend.

 

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Dogs – Life’s Companions – Part 1 – Angel

Angel in the Driveway We never own our dogs. We only reside with them by ancient covenants that bond us. Life is defined by events that include both joy and pain. All human emotions apply in our close relationships with our dogs. It is thus appropriate that we honor these special friends as we would our beloved human family members with stories, photos, monuments, and sincere reflections of gratitude.

Pat and I have already had three canine companions in our married life, and they have been as dear to us as our own three daughters. A super intelligent Border collie came to us as an overnight guest after she had been spayed by the Watauga County (North Carolina) Humane Society. Pat, a member of the board at that time, and I were delivering blankets and needful supplies to the animal shelter when a member, who had just returned from the vet with a small black dog just out of surgery, approached us. She said that she did not want to return the still groggy female to the kennels and begged us to take her home for overnight care.Angel on sofa

We were then living in a rented condo that specified no pets, but we thought that we might get away with a one-night stay. We tried to bed the little dog down in a bathroom with a barrier at the door, but the dog jumped over it, and her incision site began to bleed. As a former Army veteran with medic training, I took the dog onto my lap to bandage her. She was so patient and trusting that we were amazed, and Pat remarked that she was an angel. That night we realized we were hooked, and that we must adopt her, so we arranged with our landlord to keep her at an added deposit fee. Her name was self-evident. She was Angel.

Angel and MontyAngel was seldom on a leash, and she went to work with us every day. At that time we had a retail store with an upstairs office, so Angel was both our home and office dog. Angel loved to leap into my lap as soon as I sat in my easy chair at home. She could be trusted to be let out to do her necessary business, never crossing the street or wandering off.

Angel was a wonderful hiking companion on the Blue Ridge Parkway trails. She kept us in sight and never got into trouble when presented with other dogs. In a high mountain meadow she delighted us as she raced in a zigzag pattern as if to raise quail or sheep from the high grass. For fourteen years she was our constant, ever faithful, ever loving companion. Her disposition was always playful and affectionate, and she was obviously the smartest dog we had ever known.

Angel gazing

The last months of Angel’s life, however, were challenging as she struggled with cancer. Her passing was mourned as that of a beloved family member. To memorialize her, we erected a wooden black silhouette of her wearing her collar and tags at the foot of a granite gravestone engraved with her name. The shrine site sits in a front-yard garden across from a two-person rocking chair bench. In this way, we daily honor and remember a wonderful friend who happened to be a Border collie.

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Richard Pryor: His Stand-Up Comeback

Richard Pryor Here and Now (1983)When Richard Pryor came to New Orleans in August 1983 to record his comedy special Here and Now at the Saenger Theatre, he stayed in the New Orleans Hilton where my wife Pat, as administrative assistant to the hotel’s general manager, handled all VIP guest details.  Pat’s working contact with Pryor was with his agent and show producer David Banks, but Pat and I both got to meet Richard as he prepared for two tapings of his final official stand-up comedy show.

The 1983 stage performances were a comeback to show business after a horrendous event in 1980 when Richard had set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine.  He had third-degree burns over more than half his body, and survival itself was in the balance.

Although Richard Pryor as a stand-up comedian exhibited a profane Silver Streak movie posterirreverent style that was unsuitable for children, our three teenaged daughters knew him well from his hit movies: Silver Streak (1976) and Stir Crazy (1980) both with Gene Wilder. The fact that Richard had won several Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Recording and television Emmys for Best Writing in Comedy for specials starring Lily Tomlin (1973) may have been lost on our young girls, but in the 1970s and 1980s, Richard Pryor was one of the most recognized entertainers in the world.

Richard Pryor’s comedic legacy for bringing highly charged racial and social issues into sharp perspective paved the way for comedians like Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock and opened a venue for the general public to address their prejudices.

The New Orleans Hilton in 1983

The New Orleans Hilton in 1983

In my brief encounters with Richard Pryor in Pat’s office, he seemed both gentle and humble, although he obviously felt the pressure of the scheduled performances.  He was still refining his material for the show when David Banks asked Pat to type the head notes for Richard’s individual sketches onto index cards.  The cards would be placed on an on-stage stool where Richard could refer to them as the show progressed.  The show was performed on two separate days at the Saenger and then edited for the broadcast and DVD versions. Pat and I were given prime seats for the first show, and if you see the show recording, you may notice Richard deftly referring to Pat’s index cards as he moves from one subject area to another.

Monty and Pat in New Orleans in 1983

Monty and Pat at the Hilton in 1983

One day while Richard was in the hotel, I was walking through the Hilton lobby with our three daughters trailing behind when we crossed paths with the star and his lady. We then stopped to greet each other. I had recommended some New Orleans restaurants to Richard, and we had some brief words on that subject before he moved on.  There had been no opportunity to formally introduce the girls, but suddenly they were pulling at my shirt.

Daughters Pam, Danielle, and Annalisa

Daughters Pam, Danielle, and Annalisa

“Dad, that was Richard Pryor!” one of them exclaimed. “He acted like he knew you!”

I guess when the girls saw Richard in Superman III (1983) with Christopher Reeve, they might have tried to impress their friends by saying, “Yeah, my Mom and Dad know him.”

Richard Pryor photoIn 1998, Richard Pryor was the first recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center.  It is the highest award a nation can bestow on a humorist. Considering his abusive childhood and his struggle for racial equality, Richard Pryor’s triumphs are profoundly important in articulating the American experience.  I’m glad to salute Richard Pryor by this remembrance.

 

 

 

 

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The Amazing Peter Decker

The couples Joynes and Deckers at a Metro Magazine party

The couples Joynes and Deckers at a Metro Magazine party

I was Peter G. Decker’s friend, confidant, and social pal throughout the 1970s when Peter was in his mid-30s and I was in my early 30s and living in Norfolk, VA.  Although Pete was already a member of the board of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a very successful trial lawyer, and a popular emcee and entertainer, these were fun-filled years before he accepted the leadership roles that prompted so many subsequent local, state, regional, and national honors.

Before I came into the Lebanese and Greek family circle of Pete and Bess Decker, my social manners were those of a straight-laced Englishman.  I would shake hands, but never hug.  But with the Deckers I had to hug and even accept kisses from all their parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins!  My rigid posture on greeting Decker friends and family gave me away, and Pete seemed to enjoy making me sweat, especially at Easter when I joined all the Decker family men in visiting the homebound elderly. As I followed the line of men into a stranger’s house, I was hugged and kissed just like all the others. I thus began to melt under the great warmth of their culture, and I came to believe that the English social restraint that I had been taught was plainly wrongheaded.

I will never forget the time that Pete was hosting in his home a refugee from the Lebanese Civil War, a cousin who was a dentist.  By way of introduction, Pete told the bearded young man that I was his brother, and then he said to both of us, “Kiss your brother.”  I hugged the stranger and kissed him on both cheeks.  Tears filled my eyes.  Peter Decker had a great gift for getting into your heart.  What the gesture meant to the man who was losing his homeland, I can only imagine.

What can you give to givers like Pete and Bess Decker?  My then-wife, Theresa, a Louisiana Cajun, could cook special dishes for them, but we could never match their excessive generosity to us.  I did, however, manage to give them memorable creative gifts twice.  Once on Pete’s birthday, I had an artist render a caricature of Pete’s head from a photograph that I provided.  Then I designed a business-type card with the caricature and the bold words “I’m One of Pete’s People” and presented him with a box of 500 of them.  Pete loved it!  About two weeks later, Pete called me.  He needed to print more cards.  His people were begging for them, and how could he say no?

The "business" card that I designed for Pete

The “business” card that I designed for Pete

The second memorable gift was a poem that I wrote and had framed as a birthday gift for Bess in 1978.  My gift was opened next to last at a party at their home.  Bess cried when she read it.  Poor Pete, he had to follow my gift with his own—a big diamond ring.  It was unfair, and he never let me forget it with faces of mock anger.  Later, he confided to me that the framed poem was hung on the back of Bess’s bathroom door—her most private space.

Peter owned a great Hatteras-made fishing boat, The Gannet, docked at Rudee Inlet at Virginia Beach. President Jimmy Carter had fished on it; and when it was not a working charter boat, it hosted Pete’s friends and VIPs.  Captain Fred Feller, a former Norfolk Police detective, was the major investigator for Pete’s law firm, but what Freddy really loved was fishing the Gulf Stream for tuna and other deep-seas fish.

A happy fishing day on Pete's Gannet

A happy fishing day on Pete’s Gannet

On several occasions, Pete asked me to host a fishing expedition on The Gannet when he was unavailable. The guests would bring gourmet lunch items, snacks, beer, and a bottle of premium whiskey to be served during the two-hour run to the beach after the fishing day.  I brought my camera to document the events and to make sure that each guest later received a gift album of the best photographs.  One great trip included a city councilman, our Congressman and his wife, the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, a Circuit Court Judge, plus three more of us who also caught big fish.

Pete introduced me to Danny Thomas and the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and to Telly Savalas when Telly was at the top of his Kojak television and movie fame.  Pete was always inclusive, never exclusive. His circle of friends in Hampton Roads was international and diverse in social class.  Walk into a restaurant with Pete, and he seemed to know everybody in the place.  From people seated at the tables to the wait staff and chef, they all wanted to greet Pete.  Bess had to deal with the situation that often saw us seated at our table while Pete toured the other tables and even the bar.

Pete was also an over-generous tipper, and if you went out for the evening with the Deckers, you had to face the fact that Pete would not allow you to pay any part of the bill. You had to be very creative if you wanted to reciprocate the Deckers’ generosity. One time I helped set up a basketball goal in the Deckers’ back yard and tried to coach their three sons—Peter III, Paul, and Phillip—on the finer points of the game.  Other times I took party photographs and ensured that Pete and Bess had album copies.

The couples Joynes and Deckers at a Western Night gala

The couples Joynes and Deckers at a Western Night gala

What I remember most was the fun that we had together.  We were still young and spontaneous enough to engage baby sitters on short notice and join other friends for an impromptu restaurant dinner party. Pete, who had played stand-up bass and sang in bands throughout college and law school, knew every working musician in the area.  So if there was live music anywhere that we went, Pete was invited on stage.  Knowing that I had also performed professionally as a band singer, Pete always insisted that I join him on stage to sing some old standard that the band was sure to know.

For an elaborate corporate Christmas party that I was managing, I wrote a cabaret act for us that featured the Pat Curtis band.  Our show was a hit, and when Pete sang a romantic ballad a la recording star Tom Jones, I arranged for two pretty women to throw panties at Pete on stage. It caught Pete by complete surprise!  Too bad we didn’t get a photo of the expression on his face when the screaming women threw “their” panties.

Pete and I performing our cabaret act

Pete and I performing our cabaret act

Even the best of friends can be separated by their respective destinies.  Now divorced, I went to New Orleans to collaborate with my co-author on a new edition of our best-selling Insiders’ Guide to New Orleans, and there I met Pat, now my wife of thirty years.  As editor and advisor, she has helped me create over 50 major literary works since our marriage.

Pete DeckerPete grew in service and public stature to become one of the most celebrated Virginians of his generation. On a different path, I withdrew to write the literature of my heart and to fulfill the will to art that revealed itself as my life’s purpose.

In remembrance, and with profound gratitude, being with Peter and Bess Decker those long ago years provided me with some of the best days of my life.  The family values that they demonstrated allows me now to embrace everyone that I meet. Any warmth of character and personality that I now possess once began with hugs among the Deckers.

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Memorial Day: The Cavalier Hotel at Virginia Beach

Old Cavalier Hotel, Virginia Beach, VA

Old Cavalier Hotel, Virginia Beach, VA

In the late 1930s, despite a lingering Great Depression and a looming World War, my father had it made.  He had recently completed a three-year apprenticeship to become a first-class machinist, and he had a good job at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard where his father, as a Spanish-American War veteran, had enjoyed guaranteed employment and had risen to become the superintendent of the shipyard paint factory.  Then too, Leger Joynes was a very handsome, trim-figured, dark-haired man who drove a brand new Ford Coupe.

The Joynes homestead in the Fairmount Park section of Norfolk, Virginia was not glorified by class because the family maintained acres of garden crops and fruit trees, as well as coops of egg-laying chickens.  The family was thus considered prosperous during the Depression, even to the extent that they had a tennis court in the side yard of the house.

Mother (far left) and Dad (far right) in their pre-WWII party days

Mother (far left) and Dad (far right) in their pre-WWII party days

The approaching “Golden Age” of the middle-class working family allowed my father the luxury of owning two tuxedos, one with a white dinner jacket.  And although he was not a member of the Cavalier Beach Club, he was a frequent guest at the highly regarded Cavalier Hotel for their “Big Band” dance weekends.  In those days, Dad was very well known in Virginia Beach through a web of family interactions that crossed several social classes.

On that late Friday afternoon, Dad led a caravan of Memorial Day

Photo courtesy of virginiaimages.com

Photo courtesy of virginiaimages.com

revelers from Norfolk to Virginia Beach.  To begin the weekend, they planned to dine and dance in the hotel ballroom, lie around the pool and beaches the next day, and then party all Saturday night to the big band likes of Tommy Dorsey.  What lifestyle could be better for young people of their age and social class where they mingled with the truly rich and privileged?

Dancing at the Cavalier Hotel

Dancing at the Cavalier Hotel

When Dad arrived at the Cavalier Hotel front entrance and turned his beautiful new Ford over to the valet parking attendant, he was met with a very concerned face.  “The general manager wants to see you right away in his office,” Dad was told. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

While Dad’s date and friends checked into the hotel, he went to the manager’s ornate grand hotel office wondering what could be the matter.  Dad and the GM were on a first name basis through mutual family friendships, although the formally dressed man behind the desk was old enough to be the 21-year-old’s father.

“Leger,” the GM began, “I’m so glad that you are here.  I’m in a jam, and I need your help.”

The jam was that the pump that supplied water to both the indoor and outdoor swimming pools was broken, and that no one was available to service it on a Memorial Day weekend. “We can’t have empty swimming pools on our opening weekend,” the GM affirmed as the obvious. “Would you take a look at it?  If you can fix it, I’ll comp you and your party the entire weekend. Rooms. Meals. Everything!”

Cavalier Hotel Interior Swimming Pool

Cavalier Hotel interior swimming pool

The mechanical repair was a filthy, greasy job down in the dark pit of a pump room. While Dad’s friends partied at the best table in the ballroom, he worked throughout the night to fix the pump and fill the swimming pools by morning. Pools filled, the GM’s gratitude to Dad was boundless.  Even Dad’s car was returned to him washed and simonized.  Every expense for the weekend incurred at Dad’s table was covered. He was treated like a celebrity by the hotel staff wherever he turned.

Soon enough the ebullient times for Dad and his Fairmount Park pals and girlfriends ended.  The World War arrived like an Atlantic hurricane, and some of them were lost in the storm of the military violence. Dad tried to join the Navy three different times, but the government would not release him from his job as a leading man in the Naval Yard machine shop.  For lack of rationed tires and gasoline, the snazzy Ford Coupe was put up on blocks in the driveway, and Dad took a shabby commuter bus that picked him up on a slow roll in front of his house and delivered him directly to the shipyard.  Busses like that ran through almost every working-class neighborhood in Norfolk and Virginia Beach to service the war effort.

Dad, me, and Mother around the end of the war in 1945

Dad, me, and Mother around the end of the war in 1945

I was born in September 1941, about three months before Pearl Harbor and the US entry into the war.  My early childhood memories are filled with food rationing and the massive flyovers of military aircraft en route to the war.  I did not get to the Cavalier Beach Club until a date took me there to a Sunday afternoon tea dance when I was in college.  The old and faded Cavalier Hotel that set high on the sand hill across the coastal road from the Beach Club beckoned to me that day, and I insisted that my date take me in her Impala Chevrolet convertible for a brief tour of the grand dame where my father had celebrated his glory days.

In telling my date the story of my father’s favorite Memorial Day weekend, I was affirming my admiration for the blue-collar trades, and for the seeming miracles that they can perform with their skills and their hands whenever they are called into service. In summation, I said to her, “A first-class machinist can make or fix almost anything. What the hell are we going to do with our Liberal Arts degrees?”

“Maybe we’re supposed to tell their stories,” she wisely replied.

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Greeting Card Verses for Valentine’s Day

Lamp photoFor Valentine’s Day my wonderful wife Pat has carefully and diligently purchased greeting cards over the years that contain poetic sentiments that were not offensive to writers like me who hate clichés and saccharine sweetness in their verse.  In 2012, Pat asked me what kind of verses I might write for Valentine’s Day.  It was a challenge to produce commercial verses that real poets might tolerate. A warning to writers who may attempt this exercise: you can’t write just one, or even quit at a dozen.  You may become obsessed for weeks. My own obsession lasted through the writing of 57 verses that spanned several card categories.

Some background in poetry seems appropriate at this point.  I wrote my first publishable poem at age 13, and Robert Bly, the prolific poet, editor, and social activist, once rejected a college-era poem of mine with a note saying that it was “almost a perfect poem.”  Nevertheless, I had to compare my nascent poetry to that written by my closest friends, Henry S. Taylor—later to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1986)—and Kelly Cherry, another celebrated poet who became the Poet Laureate of Virginia. In those early days of sharing our writing with each other, you might understand my reluctance to offer poetry.

Although I have never been a serious student of poetry, I have continued to write verse my entire literary life.  I have thus suffered enough rejections of individual poems and a collection to retreat and rather store them in what Robert Frost called his “strong box.” My strong box now includes more than 150 poems edited into two collections, and the overage that increases by about three to four new poems a year.

After reading the following samples of some of the shorter Valentine verses, you may want to exercise your own greeting card poetic imagination.  But be advised, you might be surprised, as I was, by the sudden abyss of sentiment that results.

Undelivered Valentines

Photo by Pat Joynes

Photo by Pat Joynes

This card comes to you

As a momentary stay

Against television.

 If you will make me

Your preferred channel

For drama and romance,

I promise to deliver you

An exciting season

Of happy memories.

______________________________

Interstellar Dimensions

May I acknowledge

Your spectacular flights

Into the space of my heart?

My happiness now

Has interstellar dimensions

Because of you.

______________________________

Photo by Tommy White Photography

Photo by Tommy White Photography

May I make an attempt

To say something that

I have never said before,

To utter a secret long repressed?

The thrill of your intimacy

Means everything

Significant to me.

__________________________

Sublime imagination

Sublime imaginationContains a heroic aura

Of the romantically

Idealized relationship.

Or so it seems

Whenever I think

About you.

__________________________________

Kokopelli

I am against respectability

Because I am willing

To make a fool of myself

In campaigning

For your attention.

______________________________

Cake topper

Biographically speaking,

I do not want to

Be ambiguous.

You are the most

Wonderful person in my life.

 

________________________________________

2 manatees

Do you want

Buoyant,

Enthusiastic,

And earnest?

Okay. I can be that way

For you.

_____________________________

Lily and Heidi

I am committed

To a trial

By existence.

Knowing full well

That I will be found

Guilty of loving you.

_____________________________

Not motivated by reason,Early morning rider

Or prudence, or foresight,

Or any artificial sentiment,

I am loose headed,

And destined for you.

________________________________

Bestow by whispering

The secret confidences

That we share

Perfect oneness

Is love’s best labor

And our sweetest dream.

Photo by Jim Dillinger

Photo by Jim Dillinger

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The Use of Remembrance in Storytelling

In writing the unpublished novel BOY AT SEA, based on my personal experiences of going to sea on a Norwegian coal freighter as a third cook when I was 16 years old, I also used family characters and events to give depth to the 1950s narrative era.

One of the most vivid memories of childhood is when I assisted my father in performing cancer surgery on my grandfather’s dog.  This is that story.

HIS FATHER AND DOGS

Buddy James’s father was a reticent storyteller.  He seldom spoke about his manhood.  What few insights were given were told from his childhood.  At age six, Glenn James had driven his father’s Model A Ford out of its shed, circled a huge plum tree at the side yard in sight of the Fairgrounds fence, and then parked it back in the garage.  When he told his father what he had done, he was admonished not to invent fantasies.  Glenn then required the entire family, including his two older brothers and two older sisters, to witness the feat done a second time.

The boy’s father had a sensitivity toward animals that at times seemed magical.  Glenn had no fear of rampaging dogs, and the boy more than once saw his father separate dogs—muzzle to muzzle in bitter combat in their front yard—by snatching them by the fur at the backs of their necks and flinging them apart.

When Buddy was a teenager, his father discovered a pit bull dog abandoned by a rental family.  The dog had been chained to a clothesline pole and was ravenous, vicious, and injured from trying to escape the chain.  Glenn James first pushed food and water within the dog’s reach before and after each workday in a machine shop.  On weekends he sat just beyond the dog’s bite and talked to him.  It took two weeks before he could approach the dog and begin to medicate its wounds.  Days later, he was able to remove the chain and bloody collar.  Finally one day, the dog followed Glenn to his new home five houses away.  For as long as the dog lived, no one could approach Glenn without reassuring that dog of their good intent.

Whenever the boy thought about his father and dogs, he could not help but revisit the memory of the cancer surgery he had assisted his father in performing on his grandfather’s ancient beagle hound.  The dog’s name was Tito.  He was famous for his long tongue that constantly protruded as much as three inches from his panting mouth.  Tito had chased rabbits in his prime and loved to howl the sentiments of the hunt.  But now the old boy’s muzzle was completely white, his black and tan spots subdued by age, his gait a slow struggle to cross from a shade tree to his tin feed dish.  An ugly growth had appeared on the back of his neck and grown like a hideous black mushroom.  The vet said that it was cancerous and recommended that Tito be put down, but the boy’s grandfather could not do it.  So when the vet refused to operate, Glenn decided to try.

The day was already hot when Buddy helped his father put the weathered gray planks across equally antique sawhorses as an operating table.  The location was away from the house—in the sun for light on the lawn nearer the tool shed and the chicken house.  His grandfather had no stomach for the event and set off for a long walk up to the boulevard where the streetcar tracks ran and where there was a confectionery shop next to the movie house where he could have his Pepsi and maybe even a candy bar to take away the bitter taste in his mouth caused by hurt.  He fully expected to find Tito dead when he returned.

Glenn spread out a white oilcloth over the gray planks and assembled the tools of a trade so piteously thrust upon him—a short flat can of ether, a fat gauze pad to administer the anesthetic, a newly, skillfully sharpened straight razor, a razor-sharp pointed paring knife, two surgical forceps, and a talcum-like can of sulfa powder from a WW II medical kit purchased at a surplus store, and assorted gauze pads and adhesive tape.

Buddy brought out of the house a pan of hot water and the mug of shaving soap with its lathering brush.  Tito watched with the languid eye of his dimmed vision, displaying his legendary tongue, moving his tail as resolutely as he could in the acknowledgment of company.  His father required help as the man and twelve-year-old boy lifted the forty-pound sack of dog onto the outdoor operating table.

Young Monty with father Leger and mother Evelyn

In the boy’s memory, there were shared events in which his father achieved a greatness he could not recall in other men.  The surgery on Tito demonstrated a nobility that the boy always found heroic.  The boy’s role was to hold the dog down during the shaving around the surgical site and the anesthesia, and then to position the head for the cutting.  His father worried more about the ether than the surgery itself.  He feared the gauging of how much anesthetic the animal could take before it went to sleep forever.

There was much less blood than Buddy had dreaded.  The mass itself was sliced off by the razor in one definitive cut and dropped from forceps onto the grass.  The agony came in his father’s determination to cut out the tentacles of the cancer rooted in the dog’s neck.  The process seemed endless, the boy expecting Tito to awaken and chaos to ensue any moment.  He watched the dog’s closed lids and listened to every labored breath as a duty that released him from watching the surgical progress a foot away from his nose.  Finally his father relented, put down the bloody paring knife, washed the open wound, powdered it generously with sulfa, and then bandaged the neck of the old hunting hound.  They removed Tito to a pallet in the boiler room off the kitchen of the house and watched him for long hours before he revived.  By nightfall, the dog stood and ate his supper.  He lived another two years and died finally in his sleep.

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First the Path, Then the Companion

      In our dialog with other writers, we met D. Jean Quarles and traded some observations about the writing lifestyle.  Jean’s networking with additional writers generated a collection of observations, lessons, and confessions that she thought appropriate to share.  And thus, through Jean’s vision and effort, evolved an anthology that became the book, The Write Balance: Journaling The Writer’s Life now available as an Amazon download.

My short contribution is titled First the Path, Then the Companion.  The piece contains the kind of advice that an older writer might give to a younger one.  The first college professor who told me that I had the potential to be a literary artist tried to warn me about the detours to art that romance constructs.

Here then is my contribution to The Write Balance.  You might want to download the entire book to see what other writers advise.

Monty at the proverbial writing table

“After you have made the life-altering decision to travel in the direction of the literary arts, the next crucial decision is who will go with you as spouse or companion.  Do not put the second before the first, or you will create constant conflict instead of literature.

My second wife understood my passion to write, and she thus became
the great facilitator for a very productive writing period that did not depend on commercial success.  As my partner, copy editor, researcher, and manuscript preparer, we were able to produce novels, non-fiction books including a long two-subject biography, and libretti for an oratorio and two grand operas over a period now spanning 29 years.

First book in the Booker Series

Meanwhile, we operated a seasonal manufacturing and retail business to support ourselves and our three, now college graduated, daughters.

During those years, I wrote full-time six months and then worked seven days a week for six months in the business.  With the girls married, we sold the business in 1992 and have devoted ourselves full-time to the literature ever since.

Second book in the Booker Series

We count our satisfaction with lives lived in the dedicated pursuit of art not on published success, but rather by the manner in which we have remained faithful to whatever literary work was inspired for us to do.  We honored whatever talent we had in the completion of more than 50 major literary works. We fulfilled and continue to fulfill the will-to-art that provides meaning and purpose to our life together.

Monty with his wife Pat

As a genetically mandated writer, first commit to that path, and then find the very special someone who agrees to go that way with you.”

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Your Spouse as a Collaborator

Monty and his wife Pat

If you are a creative artist producing and publishing in the public arena, the focus of attention as a married couple will generally spotlight you.  Your wife or husband can thus become a background character in the wings of your stage-like life.  And although your spouse suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that are part of your creative career, the credit for endurance and any success is usually accredited to you alone. Your spouse is too often unfairly treated as second fiddle in a one-man band.  Worse yet, they become subconsciously considered a live-in groupie.

Monty speaking in Chicago bookstore. Photo by Pat Joynes

Some spouses of creative artists survive the attention focused on their mates by generating very successful careers in their own right.  They become doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs and thus can attain status by being introduced as such.  But if spouses are creative artists, too, the competition for success usually overwhelms the marriage.

How can the career artist solve the perceived-worth dilemma of the partner when all the daily evidence points to the slavish demands of the art?  Is devoted service to the artist’s production the purpose and destiny of the spouse’s life?

Pat at a Chicago bookstore signing

In our long marriage of nearly thirty years, my wife Pat and I have had to confront these questions.  People in the literary and publishing trades who know us assure me that Pat makes me as an artist possible.  Otherwise, by inference, I am impossible.  I have to admit that their observations are valid.  I am dyslexic; and if Pat were not a great copy editor, every one of my manuscripts would doubtlessly fall at least a letter grade.  Pat also has infinite patience where I have only a fingernail hold on it.

I married Pat, however, for the presence of her inner light, her beautiful, unselfish, compassionate soul.  All our friends and associates recognize her in this way; and when we are in the same room, I am second-banana to my beloved wife.

When American Indian elders read the Booker Series novels and wanted to

Photo by Pat Joynes

challenge me as the Anglo author, it was Pat whom they trusted first.  It was Pat who was invited into the Cherokee Nation as the Chosen Daughter of a Greatly Beloved Cherokee Grandmother and was named Morning Song in a tribal ceremony.

Pat has been included in all our book research trips.  She did a lot of the trip planning and backed up my location observations with photographs.  As a former magazine editor of photography, I soon realized that Pat had a photographer’s eye for content and composition, and I began to rely on her pictures in the writing of visual descriptions in my books.  Our trips together for her were sometimes respites from the household responsibilities that included three teenaged daughters.

Here are a few of Pat’s photographs that she had contributed to our book projects as well as some of her personal favorites.

On set of CELESTINE PROPHECY movie. Photo by Pat Joynes

Monty on the movie set of THE CELESTINE PROPHECY

On movie set of THE CELESTINE PROPHECY.

Movie location of CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, Ashland, OR.

New Mexico roadside, location of novel DEAD WATER RITES. Photo by Pat Joynes

Alaska, location of novel JAMES MASON LIVES! Photo by Pat Joynes

Our street. Photo by Pat Joynes

Our dog Heidi on a local mountaintop.

A snowy day at home

Bass Lake, Blowing Rock, NC

Bryce National Park

Evening at Bass Lake

For any married artist, your spouse is both your companion and your career partner.  When you realize that you can have no success, no happiness, and no satisfaction from your art if your marriage doesn’t work, you will begin to celebrate your spouse as he or she deserves.

Photo by Jim Dillinger

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Poetry for a Very Special Occasion

Danielle and Perry

Our family has an annual summer reunion that in recent years has been hosted by Annalisa, the daughter with the biggest house.  My sister Rita and my first cousin Ruth, as activity and entertainment directors of the three-day event, plan complex games for the children and inspiring rituals for the adults.

This year the family reunion was also billed as an engagement party for our third daughter Danielle and her fiancé Perry.  Among the written instructions issued by Rita were that we send photographs of Danielle for a display table and that we prepare to stand and deliver a congratulatory and inspiring message to the betrothed couple.  The extroverts among us relished the idea of expounding within that formal circle while the introverts struggled for what they might say.

My wife Pat, as usual, had the solution for our contribution to the program.  I would write a meaningful poem that she could illustrate and put into a fine-arts frame for perpetual display.  A poem on demand?  I hoped for inspiration.  I also knew that I could not perform whatever I wrote due to my reputation for emotionality, so Pat agreed to read the yet unwritten poem.

I could not bring myself to the poetic task for weeks, and Pat despaired of my writing the poem with time enough for her to frame it prior to the June 24 scheduled event.  Then unexpectedly, in the last week prior to the trip, I found the words.

Here then for Danielle and Perry, to be married on November 11, and for you readers in the category of “where do poems come from?” is The Blessing Tree.

Rhododendron in bloom

 The Blessing Tree 

 This spring the large rhododendron

Beside our driveway bloomed                          

Like it never had before

In hundreds of pink flowers

That clustered in magnificent bouquets.

The tree seemed to reach out

To everyone who passed

With a blessed reminder

Of how life can be                                               

Walked in beauty.

The season of magnificence

In the rhododendron passes,

But its blessing continues

In the promise of another year.

Human beings also flower                         

In their evolving

Toward a greater capacity

For blessing each passerby.

They grow into unions

That bless their families

Through marriage, and what love

They express is returned

To them like the bounty

Of our rhododendron tree

In blossoms too numerous to count.

We now look upon Danielle and Perry

As both the givers and

The receivers of many blessings,

And we celebrate the blooming

Of their love and ours

With them in the perfect experience

Of a wondrous season

Where the blessing tree

Is our family tree.

 

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