Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering Those Still "On Patrol"

May 30, 1964

Jocie Brooke here reporting from the offices of the Banner on Main Street, Hollyhill, Kentucky, on Memorial Day. 

Mama Mae always called it Decoration Day when she took flowers to her husband's grave. I went with her sometimes. Now she's there in the graveyard beside him. I rode my bike out to the cemetery earlier today to lay some peonies on Mama Mae's grave. She loved peonies. Dad must have gone by there on his way to work because a bouquet of white roses was already there. If I'd known Dad was stopping by the cemetery, I'd have gotten up early and gone with him.

But Dad sometimes likes to be alone to think about Memorial Day. You see he served in World War II on a submarine. He says that might be him in the back on this picture. In a submarine way down in the ocean with the Germans shooting torpedoes at his sub is where my dad heard the Lord calling him to preach. At the time, he thought the Lord might simply be letting him know it was his time to go to his final resting place. (It's some story and I never get tired of hearing it. If you want to know it, he tells me the whole story in Scent of Lilacs.) I'm really glad the Lord didn't let any of those torpedoes hit Dad's sub so that he could come home from the war and be my father. 

He's glad too, but at the same time, he says he can't forget the thousands of families with empty chairs at their dinner tables because of the war. Some of those who didn't come home were submarine men whose subs were hit and never surfaced. On Memorial Day, Dad says a special prayer for  the crews of the World War II submarines that are still "on patrol." He heard about this special memorial to those lost submarines and their crews not long ago so he put this picture on the front page of the Banner, top fold.

Dad doesn't talk much about his war days, but Memorial Day week he works extra hours to put out a newspaper to remind people to remember those who died in service of our country.

I asked Dad if I could interview Mr. Whitlow. You remember Mr. Whitlow from last week, don't you? That guy who showed up from nowhere to live in the hotel on Main Street. He might be a veteran but even if he isn't, I still might find out something about him to give a clue to what he's doing here. But Dad says I should go to the nursing home instead and talk to the World War I vets. Get their stories on paper while they still remember them. Not exactly what I had in mind, but Dad's the boss. 

So I'm off to the nursing home, but if I were to happen to meet Mr. Whitlow on the street, it surely couldn't hurt to ask if he had served during the war. Then I'd know at least one thing about him. But whether I find out anything about him this week or not, I will sooner or later. Something besides that he comes in every Thursday to buy a paper, and every Thursday, Zella has on a Sunday go to meeting dress. 

Zella doesn't pay the first bit of attention to how the cat, Red, arches his back and hisses when Mr. Whitlow comes through the door. But that might be something we need to notice. Of course, Red does the same thing when Pastor Barton from the First Christian Church comes in. He even scratched at him when Pastor Barton tried to rub him once, and Pastor Barton is as nice as can be and not a bit mysterious. Wes says Jupiter cats are a peculiar breed and hard to figure out. 

Oh well, I'd better be thinking about what I'm going to ask the old veterans for next week's paper. Maybe tonight, I can ask Dad some of the same questions since he's a veteran too. 

Did you have family members who fought in the wars? What would you ask them if you could? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Stranger in Hollyhill

May 20, 1964

Jocie Brooke here reporting from Main Street, Hollyhill, Kentucky. 

A stranger checked into the Hollyhill hotel last week. So what's so strange about that? The only person to check into that hotel in my lifetime is Bill Jackson who moved into one of the rooms ten years ago after his mother died. Bill's neck is too long for his head and he must have had polio or something because he sort of drags one of his feet. I know he can't help how he looks, but the man could star in a scary movie except that he knows everybody in town and is the nicest guy. 

He didn't rent but one room but Mr. Hastings, who owns the hotel and prefers Florida to Hollyhill, lets him have the run of the rest of the hotel as long as he keeps it clean. I guess he also has the job of desk clerk if any passer-throughs see the hotel sign and stop for the night since it turns out that it wasn't that you couldn't rent rooms there. It was that nobody wanted to rent a room there. People go to a fancy hotel in the next town or rent a room at the little motel out on the outskirts of Hollyhill.

Nobody knows why Mr. Whitlow is here. Not even Bill Jackson, but Bill's the kind of fellow who doesn't ask questions. He says if somebody wants you to know something, they'll tell you. But the stranger has been eating down at the Grill so Lorraine there will be knowing everything about him in nothing flat. She's already told people he puts ketchup on his scrambled eggs and likes his toast lightly browned, no jelly. When I bought a shake there Saturday, Lorraine went on and on about how nice looking Mr. Whitlow is. Compared to Bill Jackson maybe, I told her, but she just said I'm too young to know what I'm talking about. So I took a closer look next time I saw Mr. Whitlow. He's old, at least forty. He wears his hat pulled down low over his face like he doesn't want anybody looking too close. You think he might be hiding out here in Hollyhill? Maybe he's running from the law. I decided that the next time I was at the Post Office I'd check the wanted posters there. You never know.  

But if he's trying to hide out here, he doesn't know much about small towns. Folks here have got their eyes on him. And guess whose eyes are on him biggest of all? Zella's. I caught her the other day standing inside the front window peering through an old pair of binoculars up the street. She got all flustered when I asked what she was looking at. She sputtered something about Red being missing. We had to shorten Cat's name to Red. Red Spot is a great Jupiter name, but too hard to say. Red, what Wes says is Cat's first name anyway, works fine. He's a Red kind of cat. 

But Zella wasn't looking for Red any more than I was. She just said the first thing that popped into her head even though she's always onto me if I even try to pull the truth out into a more interesting shape. She just let out a little huff when Red came out from under her desk and began winding around her legs. Turns out Red must think Zella wears catnip for perfume. He's always hanging around her desk and Zella definitely wasn't looking for him through those binoculars. She was watching Mr. Whitlow. I peered around her out the window and saw him headed up the street to the Post Office. Probably to check the wanted posters there and figure a way to get rid of any with his picture on them. I should have been quicker checking them out.

Wes tells me to stop letting my imagination go wild. That folks looked at him the same way when he first came to Hollyhill from Jupiter and that Mr. Whitlow is probably just from Venus or Mars. Nothing at all to worry about. But there's something odd about the man. I'll be watching him. Between Zella, Lorraine and me, we'll know what he's up to soon enough.

Why do you think he's come to Hollyhill?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Locust Bloom Winter

May 13, 1964
Jocie Brooke here reporting for the Banner. It's been a cool day here in Hollyhill. Way too cool. Last Friday it was 80 degrees and so hot that when I got home from school, I broke out my pedal pushers and wore a sleeveless shirt to the Banner office. Wes wanted me to help him clean up the press room. Cleaning up isn't anything Wes thinks is fun. You can look at his hands and see that. Anyway, Zella took one look at me and said I was pushing the season. 

Could be she was right, because the season pushed back today. The temperature didn't even climb all the way to 60 degrees. Aunt Love kept looking at the thermometer on our porch and saying the thing was surely broken. But then Dad came in talking about the locust trees being in full bloom, and Aunt Love said well, that was it. Locust winter. She has a winter for every cool snap from redbud winter to blackberry winter and a dozen in between. She even talks about linen britches winter. I guess Zella might say it was pedal pusher winter. 

I put on a sweater and went outside to see if I could smell the locust blooms. The trees are loaded down this year and the air was full of their perfume. Locust blooms smell wonderful. Dad says it's the best fragrance ever. He even smelled it once while he was on the submarine during World War II. No way there could have been any locust blooms on the submarine, but Dad says he smelled them. Dad thought maybe that meant the enemy's torpedoes were going to sink them. That the Lord was giving him a last gift and memory of the farm back here in Holly County. But then instead of dying, the Lord called him to preach. It's a pretty crazy story, but Dad says the Lord can use whatever he wants to send us a message. It all belongs to him. 
I like the locust blooms fine, but I have to admit that I think lilac blooms have them beat on the fragrance front. The lilacs are gone, the last blooms knocked off by that hard rain we had last week. But I did bury my nose in some blooms before that happened. A person does need to be careful not to share the bloom with a bee when doing all that sniffing. 

But now the yard is fragrant from the locust trees growing along the edge of the yard. It's a good thing the trees have these sweet blooms. Else every one of them would be cut for firewood. They drop thorny branches down to stick in unwary bare feet in the summer and they have little old leaves that barely make a shade. Worse than that, Aunt Love is absolutely sure they draw lightning. She could be right since lightning in a storm last summer made a blaze down one of the tree trunks. 

But Dad says to give the trees a break, that every time he sees them or smells their blooms, he remembers why he's a preacher. You can get the whole story in that book, Scent of Lilacs. And also find out how the Lord used lilacs to send a message to me. Not to preach. Heavens, no. Wouldn't that set a few church people on their ears if the Lord called a girl to preach? It would scare me to death too. I'm hoping he'll just call me to be a kid for a while longer and then when the time comes, he can poke some ideas in my head on what I can do when I grow up.

What flower fragrance do you like best?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cat Gets a Name

May 6, 1964

Jocie Brooke here reporting from Hollyhill, Kentucky. Things have been really hopping around here since Cat showed up. I'm beginning to believe he is from Jupiter the way Wes says. Zella says she doesn't care where he's from as long as he stays away from her and for heaven's sake, we're a newspaper. We deal in words so surely we can come up with a better name than Cat for the cat. 

I don't agree with Zella about much, but I have to agree about that. Cat does need a name. So I took a poll of names at the newspaper. Wes says he thinks Cat is a boy cat, but he could be wrong. Not so easy to tell with cats. Zella heard him saying that and said of course the cat was a boy. Anything that irritating definitely had to be male. Cat likes to sleep in her chair, leaving his hair behind to get all over Zella's clothes. And at least once every day, he pounces at her toes under the desk when she's typing. I don't know if you can train a cat, but if you can, Wes has been busy with Cat. 

We got some great name suggestions from our readers. Here's the names suggested. Gabby Hart, Holly, Asterisk (Aster for short), Smudge, Paige, Letters, Deadline, Inky, Typo, Byline, and Redspot. Wes says Holly and Paige are too nice names for Cat. I say Deadline and Byline are too hard to say. Here, Deadline, kitty. You have to try names out, you know. 

Wes likes Redspot. That's not so easy to say when we're calling Cat, but you've got to remember Wes thinks Cat has Jupiter roots. It seems this giant storm has been raging up on Jupiter for hundreds of years and astronomers here see it as a great red spot they also call "The Eye of Jupiter" because of its shape. Wes says it's more than a spot to Jupiterians and that old Mr. Jupiter has been trying to figure out what to do about it forever. It's like a enormous hurricane covering a space as big as earth. Wow! 

So while I really like Smudge and Typo and all the others, Redspot it is. Wes is the one who invited Cat inside, and he wanted a Jupiter name. Turns out we named him well. You have probably been wondering about that snake picture. Spring has come to Hollyhill and with the warm sunshine, certain slithery creatures start waking up. I don't much like snakes, but compared to how Zella feels about them, they could be my pets. Zella is terrified of snakes. Terrified. 

She went out the back door last week. Who knows why? But when she looked up at the bushes running along the fence there, she was nose to nose with this fine snake. She started screaming and just stood there like she couldn't move. I don't know why she didn't run away. It was like she was afraid the snake was going to jump on her. Snakes don't jump, do they? But I guess it could have fallen on her. It definitely was hissing at her with its tongue out. Then Cat, I mean Redspot, stormed out of the press room door, and leaped up on the fence to snarl at the snake. That plus Zella's screeching convinced the poor snake he wasn't in friendly territory. He beat a hasty retreat. 

The next day, Redspot was playing with a catnip toy in the press room. Zella wouldn't admit buying it, but who else?  I