Pat Wahler, Author

Writing to entertain, educate, and inspire

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

Yes-I’m a Romantic Fool

Unless you live under a rock, you know this weekend is the premiere of Disney’s live action film, Beauty and the Beast. Although this particular version is new, the story is definitely not.

Beauty and the Beast, print circa 1875. This beast has a distinctly walrus look. (Pook Press)

Beauty and the Beast may have sprung from the classic myth of Cupid and Psyche, where the beautiful Psyche is offered as a sacrifice to a monster. French author, Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villenueve, is credited with turning the myth into a story and publishing it in 1740. Over one hundred pages long, and containing a very savage beast, the story had plots and sub-plots and action galore.

In 1756, Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont, shortened the story and pared down the number of characters. This version is closer to the one most of us know today, where a simple working girl tames the beast, saving him with her love. Having a working-class girl as the heroine of a story with trouble brewing in the time before the French Revolution, must have made reading it a dangerous pleasure.

Beauty and the Beast, print circa 1885. This beast has evolved to the appearance of a wild boar. (Pook Press)

Over the years, the story of Beauty and the Beast has undergone many incarnations, but each of them seem to boil down to the same notion. Belle discovers the true nature of a man is found in his heart and soul, not in his appearance.

There are probably a hundred variations on this theme found in literature, movies, and plays. And why not? Who doesn’t love a story where good triumphs over evil, where what you are inside matters more than your imperfect exterior, and where true love triumphs over all.

Beauty and the Beast, print circa 1923. (Pook Press)

Will I be heading out to see this movie? You bet. I admit to being a romantic fool.

How about you?

A Dog Like Sergeant Stubby

Dogs have been helping humans since ancient times. It’s not surprising. Ever since the first wolves crept closer to campfires to become part of the family, dogs have aimed to please their people.

Yet not all dogs have a story like Stubby’s.

In 1917, Stubby, a brindle-coated terrier mix puppy, wandered into an encampment of soldiers training for their upcoming mission to fight for the allies in France during World War 1. The men of the 102nd Infantry became so attached to the little guy, they smuggled him on board while shipping out on the S.S. Minnesota. Legend has it when the commanding officer discovered Stubby’s presence, Stubby charmed the man with a modified dog-salute soldiers had taught him to perform. The commanding officer decided to bend the rules decreeing no animals allowed.

Stubby with jacket and a few of his medals. (National Museum of History)

A big dog in a small but stocky body, Stubby wasn’t only a morale lifter. He found a German spy and chomped on to the man’s pants, holding tight until his pals could complete the capture. He alerted the troops to mustard gas attacks and detected incoming artillery fire before the shells exploded. Stubby located wounded men, and was, himself, wounded by a grenade. Stubby survived his injuries, and was soon elevated to the rank of Sergeant.

At war’s end, after serving in seventeen battles, Stubby’s primary caretaker, J. Robert Conroy, smuggled Stubby out of France the same way he’d helped smuggle him in.

But did Stubby relax into a quiet and well-deserved retirement? Not on your life.

He became a proud symbol of America’s war effort. Stubby led parades. Organizations such as the American Legion, Red Cross, and Y.M.C.A. made him a lifetime member. Honored by generals and presidents, Stubby received countless awards and traveled extensively to visit his adoring public. Hotels even lifted their ban on dog guests whenever Stubby came to town.

Stubby receiving a medal from General Pershing-1921. (National Museum of History)

Stubby leading one of many parades. (National Museum of History)

As though all that weren’t enough, when Private Conroy went to law school, Stubby became mascot of the Georgetown Hoya’s football team. Between halves, he’d scamper around the field using his nose to push a football, to the crowd’s delight. There is even speculation Stubby’s performance may have put a glimmer in someone’s head about the idea of a half-time show.

Before Beyonce and Madonna, there was Stubby. (National Museum of History)

This mighty little warrior passed away in 1926 at approximately ten years of age. Click HERE to read Stubby’s impressive and slightly poetic obituary (it took up a half-page) in the New York Times. Not many humans have received such a sendoff.

Stubby’s remains and the details of his story are preserved and on display at the Smithsonian. He’s one impressive canine, isn’t he?

Well, as you might imagine, I couldn’t wait to tell Winston all about Stubby, hoping to impress my own dog into performing amazing acts of courage in the face of frightening events.

Winston’s response to performing amazing acts of courage in the face of frightening events. 

Tax Time

For the past few weeks I’ve been sorting pieces of paper from the basket where they’ve been hiding for the past year, and writing out categorized lists of income and expenses. While this can be an eye-opening (and sometimes horrifying) exercise, it’s the first baby steps I take when getting ready to file my taxes.

Me, at tax time. (Quickmeme.com photo)

Tax time isn’t a celebration. For most people, including me, the idea of preparing taxes only prompts fear, aggravation, and helplessness. Add frustration to the mix once you start dealing with Form A, part 3, subsection d. But no worries. If you have any questions, all you need to do is refer to a booklet containing over one hundred pages of instruction.

If we have to pay, can’t it at least be a tad bit easier?

Ah, taxes…

Even though everyone understands why we must pay them–to fund the structures and services that keep our country rolling–I don’t think anyone is particularly thrilled about the idea of doing it. And that isn’t a recent phenomenon.

Income taxes were “officially” launched in 1862, when President Lincoln needed revenue to help fund hefty Civil War expenses.  He signed a bill into law that would levy a three percent tax on incomes between $600 and $10,000, and a five percent tax on incomes of more than $10,000.

Lincoln discussing matters with General McClellan and other officers. Probably about how expensive it is to run a war. (Library of Congress photo)

It likely won’t surprise anyone to know the people weren’t happy about this development. Congress finally succumbed to pressure, and cut the tax rate in 1867. However, this did not sufficiently cheer taxpayers, and the income tax was repealed in 1872.

Sadly, the people’s joy would be short-lived. In 1894, income taxes were revived, but not without a resounding fight. So, in 1895, the Supreme Court stepped in to rule the income tax unconstitutional as it was a direct tax, not apportioned among the states on the basis of population.

In 1909, President Taft tried to set up income taxes again, and recommended Congress give the government power to tax income without apportioning by population. Much debate and bickering ensued, but the 16th amendment was finally ratified, giving Congress the power to lay and collect tax on incomes from whatever source, without regard to apportionment.

And we’ve been paying income taxes ever since.

You’ll be happy to know, after days of angst and struggle, I did my civic duty by completing a ridiculously complicated form, and filing my taxes. What a wonderful feeling to press the “submit” button. I actually became giddy once the whole transaction had been completed.

The best thing about filing income taxes is getting a refund.

On Love Letters

Book cover, “My Dear Molly: The Civil War Letters of Captain James Love”, edited by M.E. Kodner.

At the January meeting of the Civil War Roundtable of St. Louis, M.E. Kodner presented on a collection of one hundred sixty letters donated to the Missouri History Museum. The letters were written by Captain James Love to his sweetheart, Molly, over the course of the Civil War. Ms. Kodner compiled them into a book. The letters give a fascinating glimpse of what daily life must have been like for a Union soldier from Missouri, and his affection for Molly warmed my heart.

Here’s a line from his letter of January 3, 1862: “I believe I am blessed beyond the power of words in your true love. No shade of doubt ever crossed my mind. I pray that I may ever return it-as you deserve.”

Molly must have been suitably impressed by his devotion, as they were married on May 2, 1865, after Captain Love escaped from a Confederate prison and made his way home to her in St. Louis.

This book, along with the approach of Valentine’s Day, got me to thinking about love letters. Does anyone write them anymore?

There have been some glorious letters composed in the past by names we all know. It surprised me to find this ancient snippet from Pliny the Younger, written circa AD 100: “If your letters are so dear to me, you can imagine how I delight in your company; do write often as you can, although you give me pleasure mingled with pain.”

There’s something beautiful about seeing loving thoughts set down on paper. They’re tangible and real and took some time and effort to prepare. The writer considered what to say, wrote it down, addressed an envelope, and carried the missive somewhere else for mailing.

“Old Letters” by Jarmoluk, CCO Public Domain via Pixaday.

I used to be a prolific letter writer. If my current “crush” went out of town, you can bet he’d receive pages and pages from me-often accented by the tiniest touch of perfume. I wanted my letters to trigger the senses in more ways than one.

This brings me to my point. On Valentine’s Day, instead of buying a greeting card or using social media, how about writing a heartfelt letter to your beloved telling him/her how you feel? It doesn’t matter whether the object of your affection is a sweetheart, spouse, your child, or a friend-I’m betting this could be one of the best gifts they’ve ever received. Imagine someone reading what you wrote five, ten, fifteen or more years from now.

Talk about a treasure!

Don’t worry. I have suggestions. For anyone who needs inspiration, click on this LINK to read bits of love letters written by a multitude of people from history. You’ll see love letters can be sweet, tender, or playful.

Take some time to jot down thoughts on what makes your loved one special to you. Organize your thoughts and let the words flow. Please, please, don’t type. Hand-write what you want to say-in cursive, of course.

Now it’s time to spill secrets. Do you have a stack of precious letters tied with a faded ribbon and stored in an attic or trunk?

Just an Ordinary Guy and His Cats

Recently, I finished a book from the tall stack of volumes (also known as the to-be-read pile) sitting next to my bed.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler, is told from Zelda’s point-of-view, and describes her life with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Let it suffice to say the story often shows Mr. Fitzgerald in a less than flattering light.  In an even dimmer beacon, is the author’s portrayal of Fitzgerald’s friend and competitor, Ernest Hemingway.

Reading the story immediately reminded me of my visit a few years ago to Key West, Florida. I toured the beautiful home Hemingway and his second wife purchased in 1928 . Talk about working in Paradise!

Hemingway Home in Key West, Florida.

My first surprise occurred when I went through the gate and discovered the 52+ cats that live on the property. They go where they want to go, as long as its within the compound walls. Apparently, the animals are trained from kittenhood not to run out the gate, which is wide-open during business hours. Right off the bat, my mouth dropped open in amazement. I can’t train my cat, Bogey, to stay off the kitchen counters.

These cats have another unusual quality…their toes.

Legend has it a sea captain gave Hemingway a six-toed (polydactyl) cat named Snowball, because polydactyl cats bring good luck. Delighted with the feline, Hemingway soon became a die-hard cat lover.

Snowball, of course, went on to do what cats in pre-spay and neuter days did. He (or she) began to reproduce. Hemingway favored litters that produced “lucky” polys, and to this day, descendants of Snowball live a life of freedom and luxury at the Hemingway Home and grounds. They sit on furniture visitors aren’t allowed to touch. They frolic in the garden. They play rough as little tigers. One even pounced on my hand and left her mark. It didn’t bother me a bit. How many people can say they were scratched by a descendant of Hemingway’s cat?

Hemingway’s desk. A cat undoubtedly dozed in his lap as he worked. Because that’s what cats do.

So in response to the book’s depiction of Hemingway, maybe he did drink too much, sleep too little, and let the fact that he had a wife at home slip his mind from time to time. I still can’t help thinking that anyone so fond of cats could be all bad.

A poly at the Hemingway Home.

Hemingway, his two sons, and a few feline friends. (Wikimedia Common)

The Tattle Tale

After several days of near seventy degree weather, we’ve finally settled back into a typical Missouri winter. The temperatures have dropped, and a widespread ice storm has coated trees and sidewalks. Most of us are staying inside.

When cold weather arrives, I buy an enormous bag of wild bird seed and fill up the feeder. We soon have a gathering of cardinals, blue jays, doves, sparrows, and even a red-headed woodpecker, dining right outside the window. This provides endless hours of viewing enjoyment for Bogey the cat, while Winston watches for random squirrels who like to crash our feathered friends’ party. Winston is great at chasing away squirrels.

Birds are fun to watch. I had a few pet parakeets when growing up, and our daughter had a cockatiel. We aren’t alone. Even a number of our country’s presidents were bird lovers. Some of these men included George Washington (parrot). Thomas Jefferson (mockingbirds). James Madison (green parrot). Yet none of them have a story quite as interesting as the parrot of President Andrew Jackson.

Jackson bought the African Grey as a gift for his wife, Rachel. After her untimely death, Jackson became Poll’s buddy and caretaker. Perhaps the president didn’t realize parrots live a very, very long time.

No likeness exists of Poll. This image of an African Grey is from African-Grey-Parrot.com

Poll proved it by outlasting his master.

In 1845, on the day of the president’s funeral at the Hermitage in Nashville, thousands of mourners arrived to pay their respects. Someone from the former president’s circle felt it only fair that Poll be allowed to say good-bye to his beloved friend, and allowed the bird to attend the funeral.

What happened next is best described by Reverend William Norment, the officiating clergyman.

“Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house.” According to Norment, people were “horrified and awed by the bird’s lack of reverence.”

To preserve the sensibilities of mourners, someone hustled the bird away from the shocking scene without delay.

Our most likely salty-tongued president, Andrew Jackson. (Image from The Miller Center)

The truth is, parrots don’t sit around on their perches making things up. They only imitate what they’ve heard. Sort of like a pre-technology recording device you can’t erase – at least, not humanely. This story has given me a totally new perspective on the personality of our seventh president.

He must have been one *#%! of a guy.

 

New Year, New Possibilities

January 1 is the day I must observe certain rituals.

1. Eat at least two spoons filled with black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is considered lucky, as in the old saying, “Eat poor on New Year’s and eat fat the rest of the year”.  Because my mother and grandmother always followed this tradition, so do I, even though the peas taste remarkably like dirt. Note that immense amounts of seasoning can disguise their flavor and make eating them almost palatable.

2. Resolve to organize, economize, and simplify. Apparently, I’m not alone. Look at the ads currently bombarding us to buy storage containers, get rid of processed foods, and bring order to our financial houses. The only thing not on my list is a fitness program. I figure by the time I’ve economized, organized, and simplified, I’ll have become sufficiently exercised, too.

3. Finally, I flip page by page through my trusty paper calendar, and record all the important dates into a new monthly calendar. That’s right. In a world where most people rely on electronic calendars thoughtfully provided on every cell phone and computer in existence, I march out the day after Christmas to pick up my bargain half-price paper calendar. The pages look inviting as a wrapped gift under the Christmas tree. Oh, the possibilities of 365 brand new days!

Using calendars isn’t a modern concept. Even the ancients needed a way to track time. Between 2004 and 2006, archaeologists discovered what may be the world’s oldest calendar in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Dating from over 10,000 years ago, a group of twelve pits appear to align with the phases of the moon, and were likely created as a way to help hunter-gatherers better follow the passage of days and changing seasons.

Image from BBC News. The ancients were far better at understanding what this means than I am. 

I understand. My own life would be pretty confusing without the reminders provided by a calendar. And browsing through a full year of events leads to my absolute favorite New Year’s Day activity.

Reading the scribbled notes is a lot like reading a journal. A map of one year in my life. Remember that surprise birthday party? What a blast. We’ve been married how many years? Wow. Our son’s and daughter’s wedding anniversaries. They’re both hard-working and happy. The birth of our first grandchild. Such joy. Our yearly family pilgrimage to Rockbridge. We discovered a fun new place to stay. Doctor appointments. Ugh, guess it’s time to schedule that check-up (yes and one for Winston and Bogey, too). A writing conference, a contract, a few contest wins.

There were some tragic events, too, marked by funerals and celebrations of life. Family members and friends who left us too soon. Yet still I realize that overall, we were blessed in 2016.

The pristine pages of my new calendar, soon to become a colorful life map.

While I transfer each important date into crisp clean new pages, hope abounds that my calendar will soon be filled with many events to make me smile when I review them on January 1, 2018.

And I wish you the same pleasant fate. Happy New Year!

What are your special January 1 traditions?

On My Wish List

There are certain stories that appeal to me so much I can read (or watch) them over and over again. Many have a Christmas theme, as I’m the type of person who totally agrees with Andy Williams. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

The movie, A Christmas Story, ranks high on my list. Set in the early 1940’s, the story features a typical family in the weeks before Christmas. There’s a curmudgeonly but lovable dad, a funny and empathetic mom, a young son named Ralphie with an obsessive Christmas wish, and Ralphie’s overdressed younger brother, Randy. The movie was based on a short story collection titled, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. The book was published in 1966, and the stories were drawn from the author, Jean Shepherd’s, own childhood.

Parts of Shepherd’s semi-autobiographical short stories gave birth to the movie.

Yet the film almost never happened. One evening in the late 1960’s, a young director named Bob Clark heard Shepherd narrating some of his stories on a radio show. Clark wanted to make the stories into a movie, but it would take nearly 20 years and a Hollywood-style deal to get the job done.

After Clark directed a highly successful movie called Porky’s, MGM gave him the go-ahead to make A Christmas Story only if he’d commit to doing a Porky’s sequel. Clark agreed. So in 1983, on a tiny budget with next to no marketing funds, he created the film he’d been longing to make. The author, Jean Shepherd, acts as narrator and even has a cameo appearance as a disgruntled shopper in the Santa line at Higbee’s Department Store.

The movie’s limited release earned lukewarm reviews, and quickly became relegated to a shelf. In 1986, MGM sold A Christmas Story, along with a batch of other movies to Warner Brothers for use on cable television.

BOOM! As soon as a vast audience had the opportunity to see A Christmas Story, it was on its way to becoming one of the most popular Christmas movies ever made. People couldn’t get enough of watching the sometimes gentle, sometimes outrageous humor lurking within the relationships of this 1940’s era family. For some, it recalled memories of their own youth. Others looked at it from a “those were the good-old-days” perspective. But most loved it simply because it reminded them of being a kid who believes in the magic of Christmas.

No matter the reason, A Christmas Story soon became a holiday tradition. It typically runs for twenty-four straight hours starting each year on Christmas Eve, and is so beloved, it generated a business, a Broadway musical, and a museum.

Yes, it even has a leg lamp in the window.

To view a plethora of fun facts about the movie, and find gifts galore, check out this link to A Christmas Story House. Purchased by a fan and carefully restored, the house is sure to delight even the most passionate and picky movie-lover. The house is located in Cleveland, Ohio (even though the story takes place in Indiana). Fans can take a tour, view movie memorabilia, and visit the gift shop. They even have movie-themed presents for sale.

Personally, this place is on my list to someday visit. I’m simply dying to know if descendants of the Bumpus hounds still live next door, waiting to plunder and pillage the Old Man’s castle.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy seeing this wonderful film for the first or (like me) the zillionth time. You can bet your snow boots that I’ll be watching it again come Christmas Eve.

And speaking of Christmas, I’d like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. Here’s hoping you receive your own heart’s desire on Christmas Day.

Even if it’s a leg lamp.

Perfect for any decor.

 

A Nerd Meets the Man

While working on my novel manuscript, I used a number of sources to help me keep straight a complicated list of timelines, locations, and people. Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T. J. Stiles, figured prominently in my efforts. The book is a well-researched, scholarly work published in 2002.  It won the Ambassador Book Award and the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship.

This book has more miles on it than a Boeing 747.

This book has more miles on it than a Boeing 747.

As you can plainly see, my copy is worn, bent, and filled with place markers. If I opened it, you’d notice ink lines drawn under passages and notes in the margins. It may appear I’m nothing more than a book abuser, but I believe such signs of wear only confirm how valuable the contents are.

Any book in pristine condition obviously hasn’t had much use, so this one can only be described as a winner.

In 2010, it delighted (but did not surprise me) to discover that Mr. Stiles’ second book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, won the 2009 National Book Award for nonfiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for biography.

Impressive? You haven’t heard anything yet.

In 2015, Mr. Stiles published Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. This book won the Western Writers of America Golden Spur Award, the William H. Seward Award for Excellence in Civil War Biography, and the Pulitzer Prize for history. The book was also a finalist for many other awards in 2016.

You can only imagine how much my admiration for such a talented author and historian grew. When I saw him posting about appearances he’d be making across the United States, I asked him if he’d be coming to the St. Louis area.

As a matter of fact, he would. On November 30, he planned to be in town to speak at the Civil War Round Table of St. Louis. I scrambled to find out where and when the group met, as I knew nothing about them, and a few short weeks later, writing critique partner and friend, Donna Volkenannt, and I set out to see T.J. Stiles (hereafter referred to as The Man). Like a couple of intrepid explorers, we fought our way through heavy rush hour traffic to reach Mehlville, Missouri, which is near Jefferson Barracks for those who know St. Louis.

We arrived at the Royale Orleans Banquet Center and were warmly welcomed by the members. Then on to a round of Civil War trivia, a scrumptious banquet, a raffle of Civil War books (Donna won two!), followed by The Man, who speaks as eloquently as he writes. And all without benefit of notes or a Powerpoint.

Are you a history lover? Then I’d highly recommend checking out the schedule for the Civil War Round Table of St. Louis.  The meetings are fascinating and the attendees aren’t slouches either. They really know their stuff.

The Man in action.

The Man in action.

To find out more about The Man, his credentials, and his books, take a look at his website . I think you’ll be impressed as I am.

Speaking of books, some attendees brought copies for The Man to sign. Alas, I felt too embarrassed to bring my beat up copy of Jesse, and although I’m now reading Custer’s Trials, I didn’t think to haul it along with me. No matter. Mainly I wanted to introduce myself to The Man, shake his hand, and express my thanks. At our meeting, I admit to becoming totally nerdy and asked him, “Do you mind if we’re in a picture together?” He laughed and graciously agreed to pose.

I’m the blushing groupie on The Man’s right.

The Man and The Nerd

The Man and The Nerd (Photo courtesy of Donna Volkenannt)

 

 

 

 

 

Have Yourself a Flour-Free Thanksgiving

We are now less than one week away from Thanksgiving, and I’ve been scrambling to prepare for the big day.

Menu (same as last year). Ingredients (a work in progress). Decorating (check). Housecleaning (are you kidding?) I guess you can see which of these tasks appeals to me most.

At least I won’t have to deal with costumed children banging on my door, handing out treats, or watching for unpleasant tricks.

No, I don’t have my holidays mixed up.

Around the turn of the century, Thanksgiving looked a whole lot like Halloween. Children dressed up in costumes, begging for sweet hard candy treats or scrabbling for pennies. They were called Thanksgiving maskers, and, depending on your point of view, the day was either fun…or totally annoying.

Children ready for Thanksgiving circa 1910. Bain News Services/Library of Congress

Children ready for Thanksgiving circa 1910. The second goblin from the left is truly scary. Bain News Services/Library of Congress

More Thanksgiving hobgoblins. Bain News Service/Library of Congress

More Thanksgiving hobgoblins. Bain News Service/Library of Congress

Remember that scene from the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis? The one where the kids dress up on Halloween and throw flour in people’s faces? That’s what Thanksgiving masking looked like. The little darlings would even toss confetti or flour on pedestrians who were unfortunate enough to pass them on the street. Presumably the victims did not have a pocketful of sweet treats.

Imagine having to contend with such shenanigans along with preparing the Thanksgiving turkey.

Fortunately, this strange tradition died out in favor of the idea of shopping and Santa. You can probably thank the movie, Miracle on 34th Street for that favor. You know what? I’ll take Santa in a parade on Thanksgiving any day over a face full of flour. I already do that job quite nicely all by myself while slaving over a stove beating lumps out of the gravy.

So when you’re counting your blessings this year, remember to add the joy of no Thanksgiving masking. It’s something else for which you can be thankful. You’re welcome.

From me to you and yours, I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving celebration. And a nice long flour-free nap when it’s over.

Happy Thanksgiving! Bain News Service/Library of Congress

Happy Thanksgiving! Bain News Service/Library of Congress

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