Dear God – Chapter Two

My next challenge was the dining room.  As I stood in the middle of that big, empty room, I was suddenly taken back to the days of a simpler time.  A time before computers and cell phones and video games.  A time when families sat down together at dinnertime and talked about their day.

A wonderful round oak dining table with lions’ paw feet was one of the pieces left behind that I kept.  A good polishing was all it needed to be a warm, inviting place to, as my grandmother called it…”sup.”

A wood-burning stove was sitting in front of the fireplace on a bed of slate.  I wondered how many times the family had dined while being warmed by a fire in that unique stove.  A flu cover was still hanging on the wall and I took it down to clean it.  It was made of plaster and a paperclip had been embedded for hanging.  On the front, a set of smiling cherubs floated on billowy clouds, and looked as though they didn’t have a care in the world.

As I was sweeping, I noticed something under the stove.  When I picked it up, I saw that it was a Bible.  My first thought was that I wished I could return it to the previous owner but I didn’t know who they were. I sat down for a minute to take a look.  It was a Scofield Reference Bible.  I had never heard of that.  I always thought a Bible was just a Bible.

Inside the pages, I found numerous pieces of paper.  One was the church budget for the year 1994.  There was an article from “The Work Of The Holy Spirit” titled “Being Faithful.”  Somebody had written on the top of the page, Monday 12th, 1989.

An interesting one was a small piece of paper dated 9-9-84.  It was hand written and said, “Funeral Home Is Expensive.”

There was a tattered bookmark that said “Capricorn.”  I knew that Jesus was a Capricorn but I was fairly certain that this was not His bible.  The owners’ name had been imprinted on the front in gold letters but was so badly worn, the only thing I could make out was that he was apparently a “Jr.”

I was completely enthralled.  There was mostly scripture references but one thing caught my eye.  Somebody (perhaps the owner of the Bible) had a sense of humor.

There were jokes about old folks.  They were funny and a few of them were a bit risqué.  I had spent what seemed like hours going through the Bible and decided that I could finish at the end of the day while I was resting.  All together, there were 38 pieces of paper tucked inside the pages.  Before putting it down, for some reason I looked inside the cover and found another folded note.

It said:  “I bought this Bible for my daddy when I was 13 years old.  I saved my lunch money and took neighbors’ mail to the post office for 10¢.  It took a long time to save up the money but I don’t think it meant that much to him.”

I went from “aw, how sweet” to “oh, how sad.”  It wasn’t signed or dated and I have no idea who wrote it.

I busied myself cleaning, taking down ceiling panels and carrying loads of rubbish to the curb.  As I was inspecting the mantel in the dining room, I found another folded piece of paper stuck behind it.  This was becoming almost like a scavenger hunt to me.  I was excited as I opened the note and started reading.

It said, “Dear God.  Please don’t let Granny die.”  It was dated 1959.

“Somebody loved their grandmother,” I thought.  I knew the feeling.  I loved mine, too.

I was truly enjoying the notes I was finding, and I was absolutely mesmerized, but one question lingered.  Were these notes written by a little girl or a little boy?  The dates were on them but I had no idea how old the child was.

I was nearing completion of the dining room and as with the living room, there was an element of sadness, coupled with the feeling of accomplishment.  The last task was cleaning the windows and as I was spraying them with Windex, I noticed a small piece of paper hiding behind the casing.

I pried it out with a small screwdriver, sat down and carefully opened it.  It said, “Dear God.  I didn’t mean to be bad.  Could you please make me a better little girl?”  It was dated 1957.

I jumped up and cheered to the point of embarrassment.  The mystery was solved.  The notes had been written by a little girl.  She had obviously done something wrong, at least in her eyes.  I couldn’t help but smile, wondering what she had done to make herself feel that she was so bad, she needed God’s help.

Weeks later, the dining room was finally finished, so I decided to work on the upstairs bedroom that I had claimed for my own.  I had previously noticed a small room, in the very back of the house that appeared to be unfinished.  It may have been an afterthought of whoever built the house or maybe it was just an incomplete addition and my focus was temporarily diverted to that little room.

It only had baseboards along two walls and the one small window seemed out of place.  The rest of the house had grand windows that were 10 feet tall, and this one couldn’t have been more than two feet by two feet.

The walls had been partially painted a dull blue color.  I didn’t think it could have been a bedroom, but if it was, it could have only supported a twin bed and even that would have take up most of the space.  Whatever its purpose, I would take as much care with it as I would take with all the other rooms.

My thoughts were to turn it into a library of sorts, putting shelves along the walls and maybe a comfy chair and lamp in the corner.  I started removing the baseboards.  They proved to be formidable foes, but I finally succeeded in getting the first one to yield.  When it surrendered its grip, a note fell to the floor.

I sat down and opened it.  “Dear God,” it said.  “I hate you.”  The date was 1964.

The notes had just spanned eight years and I wondered why she now hated God.  I felt so sad for her, but like threatening to run away from home; haven’t we all at some time, been a little pissed at God?

The other baseboards hid nothing but screws, a bit of plaster and a few broken fingernails.

As I worked in the bedroom, I was disappointed when I found no notes behind window casing or baseboards, or mantles, but the closet hid a secret staircase into the attic.  I had always been an adventurer and this was going to be fun. 

If there was an old abandoned building on the side of the road, I would stop and wander through, although with a little trepidation and the fear of the possibility of being arrested for trespassing.  I once found an old yellow Tupperware bowl, complete with the lid, and I still have it. 

I wondered what secrets lay hidden in the attic.  Maybe another Tupperware bowl.  Maybe nothing.  Either way, I was ready to play Sherlock Holmes. 

 

 

To be continued__________________

The Stalker – Part Three

My curiosity had gotten the better of me.  I decided to brave the “curse” and spend the night in Resurrection Cemetery.  I had my sleeping blanket, some munchies and a cooler filled with caffeine-loaded soft drinks.

I had spent the night in cemeteries before and the only thing I got from those stays were several bites from blood thirsty mosquitoes and a crick in my neck.  Tonight I was armed with insect repellent and a horseshoe pillow.

Sitting under a full moon, I was waiting for midnight…the witching hour…the time when restless souls were supposed to make their appearance.  I wondered, would it be like the old movies where people in zombie-like states wandered around looking for brains to eat?  Or would it be like the tales I’d heard of beautiful women gliding around in white dresses, softly calling somebody’s name?  I had never seen any of those things before and thought it would be highly unlikely that I would see them tonight.

Maybe I would see an apparition of Jimmy Hoffa’s head floating around, searching for the rest of his body.  No matter what I saw or didn’t see, I was prepared.

I chose my spot carefully, near but not too near the lone grave.  If anybody was going to rise from that grave, I was poised to watch them.  I chuckled to myself as I leaned against the same tree where Mr. Kennedy said the only surviving teenager had been found.  He had said nothing about going near or touching that tree and it gave me the perfect vantage point for viewing the walking…or rising dead.

At one point, I decided to tempt fate and walked over to the grave.  I didn’t stand on it nor did I walk over it.  That’s something I had never done.  I had seen it done and it always bothered me.  Walking over somebody’s grave or standing on it was to me, disrespectful and almost sacrilegious.

“There should be bones here,” I thought to myself.  The grave was absolutely covered with dead leaves, so using my foot, I swept some of the leaves off of the top.  I was wrong.  There were no bones.  There was nothing.  Nothing at all.

“That makes sense,” I told myself.  Animals had surely ravaged the bodies and carried away the parts to eat or feed to their offspring.  I think that was my way of self-comforting myself as I suddenly realized that I had done exactly what Mr. Kennedy had told me never to do.

I listened to the dead silence.  No crickets were chirping.  No frogs were croaking.  I didn’t hear that annoying whine of a mosquito is preparing for a quick snack.  I didn’t even see any ants or other critters crawling about.

After several hours, I was disappointed that nothing had happened.  I had seen nothing,  I had heard nothing.  No one had touched me or called my name.  Obviously the caffeinated drinks had not done their job and my eyelids were getting heavy.  I decided to close them for just a few minutes.

It seemed like only an instant had passed when I awoke to the sun shining in my eyes.  I was surprised when I noticed that my sleeping bag was gone and so was my cooler.  “Dammit!” I said.  “The curse of this cemetery is that somebody will steal everything you have if you aren’t watching.  You’re lured here by the tales of ghosts and retribution and it’s only a ruse to steal what you have.”

I stumbled to my feet and headed out of the cemetery.  I was anxious to find a cup of coffee, talk to Mr. Kennedy and tell him that the long departed souls resting in and on top of the lone grave had remained in their peaceful place.  Not only had they remained, they had remained after I had swept the leaves away…and I was still here.  “So much for a curse,” I thought.

A week later, they found my body laying on the grave.  There were no marks.  There were no signs of a struggle.  I was just dead.

 

It Ein.

The Stalker – Part Two

I admit that Mr. Kennedy’s words grabbed my attention.  It wasn’t so much what he said but how he said it.  I had been told before to be careful of things…things unseen…things unknown…things that couldn’t be explained, but I was young and you know what they say about being young. You feel immortal.  Death or dismemberment or sickness is in old person’s future, not ours.

Did I believe what he said or did I think he was teasing me?  The way he said it was the most unsettling part.  There was no twinkle in his eye. There was no wink.  There was no subtle grin.  Nothing but serious dead-pan affirmation that I should go nowhere near that grave.  Did that fuel my curiosity?  Yes it did, but first I aimed to stalk the other graves.

Week after week I stalked Resurrection Cemetery, searching the names.  I found none that stood out as historically famous or even somewhat notable but one thing became crystal clear.  I was the only person stalking the dead. I had never seen another living soul walking the grounds, save Mr. Kennedy and I understood his feelings of being watched.  I have stalked many, many cemeteries and there’s always a hint of uneasiness.  After all, you’re walking amongst the dead but cemeteries like Resurrection, hidden away and neglected, even during the light of day seemed somehow, dark and twisty…and lonely.

There were no visitors, so there were no tears, no prayers, no sadness…nothing.  It was as if these poor souls had been planted and forgotten.  There was no life anywhere.  Even the flowers were plastic and had they been real, I couldn’t imagine that they would have lived beyond a day.  The grass covering the graves seemed to struggle for life and on one grave…the lone grave, it had given up and gone the way of the departed.

The following week, I wanted to talk to Mr. Kennedy about the cemetery and the lone grave.  Surprisingly, he was amenable to my request with the caveat that we talk quietly and away from the lone grave.  I asked him why I had not seen one person visit the cemetery.

He said “I don’t rightly know but I imagine it’s because of the lone grave, as you call it.  You know, you’re not the first person to have a fascination with cemeteries and you’re not the first person to have a fascination with that lone grave.”

He went on to say “I never go anywhere near that grave and I never will.  I don’t even know what’s written on the plaque and I don’t want to know.”

I told him that nothing was written on it and watched as the color drained from his face.  He said “you’ve looked at it?”  I told him that I had only glanced at it.  Then he asked me if I touched anything.  I told him that I hadn’t and he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

I asked him if he could tell me what he knew about it.  He said “well, there have been a lot of people who have tried to beat the ‘curse’ and the last folks who decided to try was a bunch of teenagers.  There were four of them and they decided to come up here and dig up Jimmy Hoffa’s head.”

“What happened?” I asked.

He shook his head and said “they never got that far.  Nobody really knows what happened but three of them were found dead atop the grave a week later and they say they died from fright.  The other one was found sitting beside that tree over yonder.  Word has it that his hair had turned snow white and he never spoke another word.  He’s down at the nervous hospital where he’s been for more than ten years now.  I guess you could say that he beat the curse..if you call being an alive dead person beating the curse.”

“And there have been other deaths associated with the lone grave?” I asked.

“Yep.  There sure has,” Mr. Kennedy said.  “I remember a cocky young man who decided to spend the night up here and as he put it ‘dance with the devil’.  A week later, all they found of him was one arm and one leg laying on the grave.”

I smiled and said “like I told you, I don’t believe in things like this and I’m not interested in desecrating a grave but these kinds of stories are intriguing.”

Mr. Kennedy looked at me with the same stern look he had when he warned me before and said “those young fellers didn’t believe either.”

Again, I smiled.  As I was walking away, I suddenly remembered what Mr. Kennedy had told me about the legend of the grave.  “Wait a minute,” I said.  “If nobody can touch the grave, how did they move the bodies?”

Mr. Kennedy looked at me and said “they didn’t.  They left them there.”

 

To be continued__________________

 

The Stalker – Part One

Some people are stalkers of celebrities.  Some people are stalkers of politicians.  Some people are stalkers of imagined lovers.

My name is Dennis Johnson and I am a stalker of cemeteries.  In my travels, I have stalked cemeteries where both the famous and the infamous fertilize the soil of their final resting places.  I have wept over many and spat on a few.

I have stalked cemeteries in large cities and I have stalked cemeteries in small cities whose names fail to appear on most maps.  But my fascination has always been with the forgotten ones, the ones off the beaten path and mostly, the ones rumored to be haunted.

I have heard tales of gentle earthbound souls still wandering the grounds looking for lost lovers.  I have also heard tales of sinister souls staying behind to seek revenge for atrocities committed against them.

In my travels, one cemetery was said to be the most haunted…so haunted that even the greatest hardcore ghost hunters dared not enter.  It dated back to the early 1700’s and although the proper name was Resurrection Cemetery, it was widely known among the residents as “Retribution Cemetery.”

Word had it that the famous Jimmy Hoffa’s decapitated head was resting there along with the Servant Girl killer from the 1880’s.  There was a folk story about self-appointed mercenaries hunting down killers, dismembering their bodies and burying the pieces in an unmarked grave.

That of course, piqued my interest and I made it my quest to seek out those departed souls who had found no rest.

Resurrection Cemetery housed 38 graves.  There were no headstones.  On each grave, a bronze vase sat atop a plaque containing meaningful epithets scripted by the decedent or a family member.  Flowers adorned each vase and appeared to be cookie-cutter arrays of unrealistic plastic.

It sat in the middle of a now tree-lined, overgrown pasture said to have been the site of an ancient Civil War battle.

Off to the side, almost hidden by a wall of weeds, I noticed one lone grave with the mandatory vase but no flowers.

In the distance, I could see a small one-room shack of sorts.  I was told that was where I could find the attendant but only on the first Monday of every month.

Fortunately for me, the first Monday was near.  After a few days of deciding where I would lodge, I made my way to the shack.  A bespectacled old man sat in a lone chair, reading the newspaper.  He looked over his glasses but said nothing.

I introduced myself and he stood and shook my hand.  “John Kennedy,” he said.  “No relation.  What can I do for you, young man?”  I explained that I was interested in information about Resurrection Cemetery, especially about the folks supposedly buried there.

“Ah,” he said.  “You’ve listened to the local rumors, like maybe Jimmy Hoffa’s head is buried here?”

I smiled and nodded “yes.”

Mr. Kennedy said “well, I don’t know if that’s rightly true or not but to tell you the truth, I don’t really care one way or the other.  I spend as little time out there as I possibly can.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He went on to tell me that it was his job to replace the flowers once a month and he found walking the grounds to be very disturbing.  “Although I know it’s not likely, I always feel like somebody’s watching me,” he said.

I asked about the lone grave.  He shook his head and said “you don’t want to go anywhere near that one, young feller.”

When I asked why, he said “it’s believed that anybody who disturbs that grave and I mean even moving a leaf, will within a year, be in it.”

I laughed and told him that I didn’t believe in that kind of rubbish.

He looked me in the eye and said “you’d better.”

 

To be continued___________________________

 

 

 

Who Am I?

They say that I was once a great beauty.
Who am I?

I commanded attention and turned heads.  I was bright and shiny and many an envious eye was cast my way.
Who am I?

My arrival was anticipated by most and feared by few.
Who am I?

People smiled and cheered when I arrived.  People wanted to touch me.  People wanted to be seen with me.  Children ran after me and waved.
Who am I?

People held back tears when I left.  Some of them blew soft kisses.  Some of them stood and watched me until I could be seen no longer.
Who am I?

My voice inspired poetry and hauntingly beautiful songs.  Mythical stories have been written about me.
Who am I?

I have seen many great wonders and I have witnessed horrible atrocities.
Who am I?

I have witnessed and hidden illicit affairs.  I have witnessed and hidden crimes of passion.
Who am I?

I have heard hearty laughter and I have seen woeful tears.  I have experienced glorious joy and I have seen pain and sorrow laid bare.
Who am I?

My shine is now faded and worn and I have been scarred.  I have been neglected, discarded and forgotten.  I was slowly replaced by others whose superficial shine will never equal mine.  I shall never return to my former glory.
Who am I? 

Now most people walk by without a single glance.  If I am noticed, I see pity in their eyes.  Some don’t remember that I once existed.  Some know me only in folklore or fairy tales.
Who am I?

They say that I was once a great beauty.
Who am I?

 

The Book Man – Chapter Four

Word quickly spread around the neighborhood about the beloved book mans’ accident.  Old man Barnes had been able to get in touch with Cole and begged him to come to the hospital.  What he wanted to say was “maybe this time you can actually find the time to visit this fine man you have disappointed so many times,” but he didn’t.

Cole said that he and his family would take the first flight out and old man Barnes agreed to meet them at the airport, wondering of course, if they would actually make it.

Old man Barnes had found a bag of books that Luther had just bought and decided to bring one of them to the hospital.  He sat beside Luther and quietly started reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea.”  He was hoping for some reaction from Luther but he saw none.

Later that afternoon, he drove to the airport and was surprised when Cole and his wife actually got off the plane.  They had left their girls at home with their maternal grandparents.  “It was just easier,” Cole said.

Old man Barnes once again held his tongue.  All Luther had dreamed about for the last several years, was getting to see those little girls.  Those little girls he had bought gifts for.  Those little girls he had planned on helping build a snowman.  Those little girls who he said were the spitting image of their grandma.

Old man Barnes drove Cole and his wife to the hospital and when they walked into Luther’s room, there was an audible gasp from Cole.

The doctor was just leaving and Cole asked for an update.  He explained that there had been no change in Luther’s condition and truthfully, he didn’t really think there ever would be.  Due to his advanced age and frail body, the trauma had just been too great for him to ever recover.  At least that was his prognosis.

Cole took Luther’s hand and said “dad, I’m here.”  A smile seemed to come to Luther’s face and then the sound that makes every nurse and doctor scramble to a room.  The straight line scream of the cardiac monitor.

Despite their valiant efforts, Luther passed away.  Cole asked for a few minutes alone with him.  What, if anything he said, no one knew.

When he walked out of the room, old man Barnes knew Luther was gone.  He was surprised when he saw that Cole had tears in his eyes.  He was even more surprised at what he said, not even looking at old man Barnes or his wife.  It was as if he was talking to himself.

He said “you know, you take your parents for granted.  You think they’re always going to be there.  You get busy starting your lives when you’re young and you forget the sacrifices they made for you when they were young.  You don’t think you have time for them and you forget that they always had time for you.  You think there’s always going to be a next time to see them.”

All those feelings and statements were too late as far as old man Barnes was concerned and he said “your dad is gone and he will never hear those words being said.  He is never going to hear the regret in your voice nor is he ever going to see the tears in your eyes.  Your sentiments are a little too late, son.”

He said “death is final and almost always brings sorrow and regret but how easy it would have been for you to say those words while he was still alive.  How much joy you could have given him if you had just once, kept your word.”

What old man Barnes said made Cole feel ashamed and he broke down.  After he gathered his composure, old man Barnes took him and his wife to Luther’s house.  They walked in and saw the stockings still hanging on the mantle.  The ornaments, carefully wrapped, still sat in a box.

Old man Barnes said “Luther was a fine man and he was beloved in the neighborhood.  He smiled and said “did you know that he was called the book man?”

“The book man?” asked a puzzled Cole.

“Yeah,” old man Barnes said.  “He called them his treasures and spent weekends buying them and then building shelves to put them on.  Besides you and your family, his books were his most precious possessions.”

“I don’t understand,” Cole said.

“Come with me,” old man Barnes said as he led Cole down to the basement.  Cole walked from room to room, awestruck at what he was seeing.  All of the rooms were full of shelves and all the shelves were full of books.

Cole sighed, shook his head and said “he didn’t want anybody to know.”

Old man Barnes, himself puzzled, said “he didn’t want anybody to know what?”

Cole smiled and said “he didn’t want anybody to know that he couldn’t read.”

 

I Ka Hopena.

The Book Man – Chapter Three

Luther hadn’t received a visit, but he had received yet another card from Cole with pictures of the little girls.  How they had grown!  He was so looking forward to seeing them as Cole had promised they would be down soon.

He put on a brave face and started the new year.  He tried to soothe his sorrow by thinking of the abundant treasures yet to be found.

In true form, the next week he came home with bags full of books.  Old man Barnes and Rufus came walking down the street and old man Barnes said “how many have you got today?”

Luther smiled and said “I have 26 today so I need to get working on some shelves.  Cole and his family are coming down soon you know and I don’t want to be out in my garage building shelves when I can be playing with those little girls.”

“When are you expecting them this time?” old man Barnes asked.

“Well, Cole promised that they would try to make it down in a couple of weeks.” Luther said.  “I have to tell you, I’m so excited and I think this time they’ll make it.”

Alas, Luther would be left wanting again.  Cole said that things were just too hectic at work but he was taking some time off around Christmas and without a doubt, they would be down.

Soon Christmas was on the way and once again, Luther bought a tree and decorated it with lights and ornaments.  He still had the bracelets he bought for the little girls last year and didn’t think it wrong to put them in their stockings again this year, along with two little porcelain angels he had picked out especially for them.

He ordered a turkey dinner from the local grocery store and had taken the good china out of the hutch.  This was going to be such a wonderful Christmas.

For the front yard, Luther bought a set of reindeer whose heads moved back and forth.  He thought the little girls would like them.  As he was hanging the lights on the house, the neighborhood children rode by and said “Merry Christmas, book man.”

Luther smiled and waved and hoped that maybe they could come play with the little girls.  He was also hoping that it would snow so they could make their very first snowman in grandpa’s yard.  He had an old scarf, an old hat and some of grandma’s buttons.  He had picked out two perfect limbs for arms and he made sure he had a carrot for the nose.

Christmas came and went.  Cole and his family couldn’t make it but there was a promise of trying to make it after the first of the year.

Christmas night, nobody knew that Luther sat in his house next to the tree and cried.

The next day, as he dragged the tree to the curb, Luther’s despondence was clear to old man Barnes, who was finding it more and more difficult to hide his anger toward Cole.  He asked Luther if he was angry.

“No, I’m not,” he said.  “I understand.  You know these young folks have a lot going on in their lives.”  He sounded as if he was apologizing for Cole.

Old man Barnes looked at Luther and said “you’re a good man, book man.”  Luther smiled and said “well, I try to be.”

One of Luther’s hopes had come true.  It had snowed and everything was covered in a white blanket that lent a sense of serenity to the entire neighborhood.  It was beautiful but how much more beautiful it would have been if there had been a snowman in the front yard, next to the nodding reindeer.

Luther carefully packed away the reindeer and then put the ladder against the house to take the lights down.

Just as he reached the top, the ladder suddenly slipped and Luther came crashing down.  Old man Barnes and Rufus had already made it back home but two of the neighborhood children, out with their new sleds, saw him fall.  They ran over to him and called “book man.  Can you hear me?”  One of them told the other to run home and call 911.

When the ambulance arrived, they asked the children if they knew his name.  “Book man,” one of them said.  The paramedic said “Mr. Bookman?”  The child said “no.  Not Mr. Bookman.  He is the book man.

“Is there anybody at home?  Wife?  Children?” asked the paramedic.  “No,” the children said.  He lives by himself and he buys books.”

The medics loaded him up and took him to the hospital.  Shortly after he was taken to a room, Luther slipped into a coma.

To be continued____________________

The Book Man – Chapter Two

Luther was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Cole and his family.  He bought stockings to hang on the fireplace mantle and filled the little ones’ stockings with all sorts of goodies.  There was a special prize tucked away inside.  He had picked out a bracelet just for them.  It was going to be such a special Christmas, he thought.

The next week, braving the chilly air, old man Barnes and Rufus stopped by as Luther was hauling the tree to the curb.  “Did you have a good Christmas, book man?  How were Cole and the family?”

Luther, again trying to hide his disappointment, said “well, they couldn’t make it.  The weather turned bad up there and they were afraid they would get stranded somewhere but Cole said they would try to make it down after the first of the year.  They sent me a nice card with a picture of them on it.” Luther got misty eyed when he said “ah, you should see those little ones. They’re the spitting image of their grandma.”

Old man Barnes, trying to hide his own disappointment, said “I’m sure they’ll make it down soon.  Where are you off to now?  After getting some more books?”

Luther smiled and said “I thought I might run into some good sales seeing as how it’s after the holidays.  You never know what I might find.”

Cole and his family didn’t make it down after the new year as hoped so Luther continued to busy himself making shelves for his treasured books. Old man Barnes had once asked Luther who his favorite author was.  Luther smiled and said “why that would be like asking somebody who their favorite child was.  To me, they’re all my favorite.”

Christmas rolled around again, and again Luther was anticipating a visit from Cole and his family.  This year, Cole had promised that “come Hell or high water,” they would make it down.

Luther once again visited the tree farm and once again, picked out the most beautiful tree he could find.  He brought the lights and ornaments down from the attic and sang to himself as he decorated the tree.  Luther was getting some age on him and it was getting harder and harder to lift heavy things like Christmas trees but oh, the joy of finally getting to see his family made his efforts worth it.

While hanging lights on the outside of the house, the children in the neighborhood, bundled up like ticks about to burst, walked or rode by on their bicycles and yelled “Merry Christmas, book man.”  Luther loved to see them having fun and would sometimes watch as they struggled to build a snowman out of powdery snow.  Unable to get it to stick together, it lent itself to making perfect snow angels.  Luther remembered Cole making snowmen and always obliged when he asked for help.  It was a memory that he would never forget.

Christmas came and went, and again, Cole and his family weren’t able to make it down.  One of the girls had gotten sick and they didn’t want to travel with a sick child.  But Cole promised Luther that they would make it down as soon as she got better.

As Luther was hauling the tree out to the curb, old man Barnes and Rufus were walking by.  Rufus walked up to Luther and when Luther bent down to rub his head, he started licking his hand.  It was as if he could sense the sadness in Luther.  Old man Barnes didn’t ask how his Christmas was or how the visit with Cole and the family went.  He could tell that once again, they had disappointed Luther.

To be continued_________________

The Book Man – Chapter One

His name was Luther Malone but everybody called him the book man.  He was an odd little fellow whose salt and pepper hair was balding in the familiar horseshoe pattern and his favorite attire was an almost wornout pair of paint splattered overalls.

He was a friendly man who never failed to offer a smile and throw up a hand when a neighbor was walking or driving by.  Children, riding their bicycles, waved and said “hey book man.”

Every weekend at the crack of dawn, he would get into his old fire engine red Chevy pick-up and begin the hunt for the books he called his treasures. After he went to all the local garage sales, he headed to the thrift stores.

He was even known to dumpster dive behind the Salvation Arm Family Store when it was closed.  His efforts were always rewarded and he would bring back sacks full of books after every outing.

He wasn’t prejudiced when choosing his books.  He didn’t care if they were soft cover or hardback.  He didn’t care if they were penned by a famous writer or a one-book author.  He didn’t care if they were thick or thin.  He didn’t care about any of those things because they were his treasures.

Old man Barnes lived up the street and had a little Jack Russell terrier, named Rufus.  The neighborhood had dubbed him “the little Jack Russell terror” because he was fiercely protective of his master.  For reasons nobody really understood, the only person Rufus would let come anywhere near old man Barnes, was the book man.

One day, old man Barnes on his daily stroll with Rufus, stopped and looked at the bags in the back of Luther’s truck.  He shook his head and said “well, book man.  How many did you bring home today?”  Luther smiled and said “38.”

“That’s a record, isn’t it?” asked old man Barnes.  Luther said “I think it might be.”  Old man Barnes said “I reckon you’ll be busy making more shelves.”

That’s what Luther spent a lot of his time doing.  He wanted to have the entire basement of his house full of shelves from floor to ceiling but those shelves would have to wait this week.

Luther had been a widower for five years.  He had a son named Cole, who was married and had two little girls.  It had been almost two years since Luther had seen them and he had never even met his youngest granddaughter.

There was notable excitement in his voice when he told old man Barnes that Cole and his family were coming for a visit the next weekend.  “I keep the house right neat” he said, “but I’ve got to get the yard prettied up for them.”

He spent the next week pulling weeds and trimming hedges.  He had already chosen the flowers he would pick to adorn the kitchen table and he had gifts for his granddaughters.

The next week, old man Barnes stopped and asked how the visit went. Luther tried to hide his disappointment when he said “well, something came up and they couldn’t make it but Cole said they’d try to get here in a few weeks.”

Luther continued to be ever vigilant in his quest to add to his vast collection of books and he had become quite the expert at building shelves.

He was not one to settle for plain planks held up by brackets.  His shelves boasted beveled edges and a dark mahogany stain, finished with two coats of wax.

Christmas was coming and the weather was turning cold but it was no deterrent for Luther.  There were fewer garage sales but the thrift stores were always filled to the brim with second-hand items, including an ever-present array of his precious treasures.  Thrift stores generally commanded a higher price than garage sales but to the book man, his treasures were worth it.

Once again, a visit from Cole and his family was promised.  Luther hadn’t had a Christmas tree since his wife Ardene had died.  This year though, he went to a tree farm and picked out the most beautiful one he could find.  He got out the old lights and ornaments that had long ago been relegated to a resting place in the attic.

Ardene had carefully wrapped each ornament as if it was priceless.  Luther smiled as he examined each one and as he hung them on the tree, happy memories of days gone by came flooding back.

He wrapped the presents he had picked out for his granddaughters and put a tag on them that read “Merry Christmas.”

To be continued________________