A Short Story

Early in the old movie, The Third Man, Joseph Cotton’s character, Marsden, says, “I’m a writer.”
Easy. Quick. Confident. “I’m a writer.”
Marsden comes to Paris because of an offer–a job as a writer.

Our book, Four Ordinary Women, is a published work.   I wrote about 1/4 of that book, put my thoughts on the pages, but am I a writer?

My sons have asked me to autograph a copies of Four Ordinary Women to be used as gifts. One son requested a book for a former student who is a writer. That was outside— far outside— my comfort. Jessieh is a writer. My words are part of a book.

I love to write. I love to find words that fit, that lock in my thoughts, that are refreshing rain on the wonderful passage of a life. But does that qualify? Am I a writer?

Over the last months, it became increasing difficult to leave the house as if staying home could protect what wasn’t there anymore.  In those months, the manic side of grief pushed hard.  Staying home did not feel like being a coward.  Rather it was taking care of long neglected business.

Dusting is a dull business.  Sorting is sad and wandering room to room has no destination.  Time to lock the door behind me and engage, find an activity that required my focus.

Enrolling in a creative writing class at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas felt wobbly.  I attended that school in 1956-1958 and am now older than the current professors.  In the ’50’s, the number of black and Hispanic students was a one-hand count.  Today the number of old white women is a count of one.

Donnelly  is in a converted hospital building, a building where I worked my high school years and where, much later, my youngest son was born.  A friend and I volunteered hours at this Donnelly so the building has the feel I need, safety, comfort and a challenge.

Nine people enrolled though six is the average attendance.  No back row in which to hide.  Silence is not an option, and I am grateful for that. It is good to be forced to speak, to participate, to express and to disagree.

The young students are amazing, articulate and able to reach far into the material, giving perspectives, forcing me to stay awake at night rehashing parts of the discussions.

My problem is the syllabus, the expectation that each of us produce  two short stories, works of fiction meshing with the structure presented in lecture.   The good news is that the problem is also the solution, the force that is pushing me along, getting back to a measure of belief in myself.  Who knows?  After this class, I just might mimic Joseph Cotton, hold up my stories and say, “I am a writer”.


Kansas City, Kansas

The small lapel button says, I (heart) KCK.   A candy dish held dozens, shared at some previous event at a local college.   I do love KCK so I took a couple and wear one on my semi dress up denim jacket with the carryall pockets.

“If you love it, why are you shopping here, not spending your money in KCK?”

Rudeness and attitude oozed from the woman just ahead in the grocery line.

I could not have heard correctly.  People don’t get all wonky over a tiny lapel button supporting  community, a place where my siblings and I flourished with that village concept.

“Pardon me?”

Surely I had not heard correctly.

My mom would never allow “What?” as a response.  When the old fight or flight reaction kicks in, Mom’s rule tend to over-ride.

“You people make me sick.”  Intentionally loud and obviously set to put me in my place, she was ramping up for Down With Do-Gooders speech, the all-show-and-no-do-speech, the put your money on your button speech.

OK.  What?  Incredulous silence?  Defense of what needed no defense? A litany of the great things about my home place?  How about the extreme single finger response?

A very wise and quiet spoken grocery checker handled the situation with two short questions.

“Do you live in KCK?”, she asked.

“Well, of course, I do.    That stupid button is so lame.  If this old lady loves the place so much, she should spend her money in KCK.”

“Forgive me, but aren’t you and this lady in the same check out line, in the same grocery store, a store NOT in KCK?”

A moment, a quick breath moment, and her single finger salute confirmed that being so immersed in anger is a state of mind devoid of logic or reasonable thought.  This  woman raised her defiant finger and left convinced that she had won, had put us in our place.

Wonder how long ago the failure of her village began?

The Tractor

I always smelled the  diesel before I heard the first crank on the engine.  The old 600 series Ford tractor rattled and whined before finding that mysterious ‘notch’ where it could hold ignition and rattle to life.

Bob kept it in the overhang on the east side of the barn.  The overhang was a smidge too low to accommodate the tall exhaust shaft so Bob cut a notch in the cross-member  supporting the roof.  Not a man to waste, the notch gave only an inch clearance of either side.  He could slip the notch easily, perfect judgement of that old machine.

That old tractor cleared snow, hauled trees, picked up hay bales,  brush-hogged the high grass and tilled the garden.   Bob used it in the scorch of summer and the ice of winter.  We used it in the aftermath of storms.  When he sat on it, doing whatever work, he was part of the machine, slouched and intent on the job.

I tried driving it a few times but my weight was never enough to brake hard and fast.  Bob just grinned when I asked (yelled) for help.

“You’ll get the hang of it.”  His confidence misplaced, though, and I quickly became all-time-on-the-ground-crew.

I borrowed the money from the local, Farmers Exchange, made the trip to Platte City where I found  the right tractor and wondered how to wrap this birthday gift for Bob.  He grinned then, too.

Bob left this place three months ago.  Tomorrow his tractor will leave.  It will leave on a flat-bed, going down his driveway.  The manuals and all receipts connected with parts or repair will go.  The implements will go.  A piece of my heart will go.

With paint, time, money and dedication,  our nephew, Jason, will restore the tractor.  Jason will make the tractor beautiful again.

Original is the end product of restoration.    I have no doubts that this Ford 600 Series tractor will be perfectly restored, beautiful in detail.  It could not be otherwise.  The man who loved it, who loved me, was an original…a one of a kind cowboy, mountain man, loner, gentle hermit who moved through his part of the world with an unmistakable footprint.

I will not watch the tractor go, cannot watch the tractor go.  I would see Bob slouched over the wheel, taking care of business.  I miss him so much.

In House (CCR)

Let’s go back to Richard Nixon and Watergate, a scandal of politics and government gone terribly wrong, a disgraced President of the United States and jail time for men privy to the Oval Office.

Sam Ervin, Howard Baker, Daniel Inoye, Bob Woodward and others contributed to the investigation with professional thoroughness and personal dignity.  They, and others, worked to find the truth.

Suppose the investigation had been handled by in-house personnel like  H.R. Haldeman , Charles Colson, John Ehrlichman, G. Gordon Liddy or John Dean.     Suppose that the results of the investigation were left to this in-house team.    It is fair to speculate that Richard M. Nixon would not have resigned, that zero jail time would be served by anyone and the tapes would be dismissed as unimportant.

Recent mine disaster offer another opportunity to speculate on the differing results from differing investigations.   The government agency charged with overseeing mine safety finds evidence not offered up by the mining companies.  Lawyers representing the miners and/or families of miners killed in explosions would never be convinced that mining company ‘in-house’ investigations were complete.

BP’s equipment failures and the subsequent oil spill had huge consequences to the environment.  BP, and those subcontracted on the rig, offered varying explanations as they worked to plug the leak.  Neither the countries nor the people affected were foolish enough to believe that an ‘in-house’ investigation would find all the facts.

On Wednesday, January 19, The Kansas City Star carried an Associated Press story out of Dublin, Ireland.  Author credit is given to Shawn Pogatchnik.  Pogatchnik writes of a 1997 Vatican letter to Irish bishops warning the bishops not to report all suspected child abuse cases to the police.  Victims of abuse by priests see the letter as powerful proof that the church supported worldwide cover-up of pedophile priests.

The article  says, “…letter undermines persistent Vatican claims that it never instructed bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police.’  Pogatchnik claims that the letter, signed by Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II’s diplomat to Ireland, emphasized the church’s “…right to handle all allegations and punishments in-house“.  (Bold face emphasis is mine.)

Today, January 20, the Star  has a response from the Vatican insisting that the “…letter warning Irish bishops against reporting priests suspected of sexual abuse to police has been deeply misunderstood.”

Today’s article references the reaction of victims groups who call the letter a ‘smoking gun’.  The group believes that “..the church enforced a worldwide culture of concealing crimes by pedophile priests of which Rome bears ultimate–and legal–responsibility.

As defense, Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s U.S. lawyer stated that the ‘deeply misunderstood’ letter in no way instructed bishops to disregard civil requirements.  Rather, said  Vatican Spokesman,  Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican intended to ensure that pedophiles would not have any technical grounds for appeal.


IF…If the intention was to protect against technical grounds for appeal, why was the 1997 letter not publicized before now?  Why was the language of the 1997 letter not clear and precise?  Why is there any question as to the meaning and intent of the instruction given to the bishops by the Vatican?  Why  was that clarification not forthcoming during Ireland’s first wave of lawsuits against priests?

This feels like one more damning piece of  the cover-up creating a vestment of ugliness and deception.   Isn’t it time for the voice of the people of the church to cry out for an end to the cover-up, exposing the crimes and the deceptions?  I read the Jesus Philosophy as a cry for justice.

Taking Care Of Business

Nightmares have been a part of my emotional landscape since childhood.   The one that still breaks a sweat has me running on a conveyor belt being chased by the biggest, ugliest, loudest, slobbering lion.  That beast has a roar to rival a tornado and his four legs run me ragged.

Someone into dream analysis has this pegged.  When life gets out of control, the lion runs.  If someone I love is sick or in any danger, the lion roars.  Uncertainty and loss of control take my mind right back to grade school mentality of fear,  maybe not with the lion, but with some intense and overwhelming dreamscape.

In sleep, I recognize the sound I make, know it is a dream but rarely am able to wake myself.  Bob had that business, to awaken me with reassurance and set life in order.

A couple of months of uncertainty and a very definite challenge to life control set the emotional conveyor belt.    Last night the nightmares were intense and I was begging my mind to let go and let me be awake.

Then I felt it.  I felt Bob walk into the room and sit on the bed.  Not Bob of the last year.  Not changed by months of weakness, but the man I married so many years ago, strong, confident, protective.   I felt him with me, taking care of business, taking care of me.  I wanted to hear his voice, wanted to hear that, “Patty, wake up.  It’s OK.  You are dreaming.”

Did not happen.  He did not speak,  but one miracle to a customer, right?  And typical, so typical of the man from that John Wayne School of Communication.  Words can fail, but taking care of business is routine.

DMV Missouri Style

Everyone has heard the stories of hours endured at DMV offices.  A commercial reminiscent of  1950’s and 1960’s movie style refreshment enticement depicts weary folks slouched in folding chairs, worn to zombies by DMV  waiting, hours of waiting.

Music comes up and cartoon characters straight out of the drive-in movie playbook  bring smiles as it shows DMV customers surviving the place by using gaming cell phones, lap tops, etc.

Mid-afternoon on Friday, the end of the work week, and I absolutely knew better than to tackle the DMV for needed information and paperwork.  However, knowing better and following that ‘better’ does not always match up.  Monday was a holiday and I wanted this chore off my list.

Two people ahead of me.  Two.  No filled rows of chairs.  No need for tech survival toys.   My turn.

“How may I help you?”  She sounded so sincere, as if helping me mattered to her.  Efficiently, the woman looked over my papers, found errors made by the car dealer , looked up correcting information and asked the pertinent questions.   Through all this, she smiled, acknowledged my responses and carried out her duties with efficiency.  Fifteen minutes later, I was out the door, chore checked off my list.

Kudos to this Department of Motor Vehicles, Missouri Style.  Kudos to the women working the counter with efficiency and courtesy.  I am so impressed and totally appreciative of a debunked myth re: DMV.  Customer service lives!


With Due Respect (CCR)

Rev. Alberto Cutie’ , an Episcopal Priest, wrote “Dilemma:  A Priest’s Struggle With Faith and Love”, recounting some of his reasons for leaving the Catholic Church.  Rev. Cutie’ is now married to Ruhama Buni Canellis.  His book describes the Catholic Church as ‘disconnected, misogynistic and  an institution that continues to promote old ideas’.

On Saturday, January 15, Monsignor Michael Mullen’s response appeared in the Kansas City Star newspaper.  Monsignor Mullen is pastor of a Kansas City, Kansas parish.  He was also a Ward High School classmate of my husband, graduating from the Kansas City, Kansas school in 1954.   Known for years as Fr. Mike, we had great respect for him as a fellow student, a fine man and a well-respected priest.  My response to Monsignor’s writing in no way diminishes that history and respect.

In his response, Monsignor Mullen encourages the reading of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI and The Leaven Diocesan newspaper  in which Archbishop Naumann has an article.  As point of fact, I have not read either of these suggested writings nor do I consider them a definitive source for understanding the scope of the Catholic Church.

I question the efficacy of reading Pope Benedict and/or Archbishop Naumann if the hoped for result is a clear and honest understanding of the working of the Catholic Church.  The perspective would be skewed.

If one wanted to understand Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado and the Legionaries of Christ, would the writings of Maciel be the source?  Would years of accumulated material praising Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado bring counterpoint to Fr. Cutie’ criticisms of the Catholic Church?  Once highly praised (and carefully protected) by John Paul, Marcial Maciel Degollado was eventually  banished him from active ministry as the extent of his double life was brought to public knowledge.

As the Catholic Church studies the case of beatification for John Paul, would the writing of George Weigel give the balanced perspective of the life and work of Pope John Paul?  Consider Weigel’s whitewashing of John Paul’s failure in the abuse crisis contrasted with Fr. Andrew M Greeley calling the abuse crisis “the greatest scandal in the history of religion in America”.

History requires factual material laid out to the best of the recorders ability.  History requires a search for unbiased and studied materials from many sources.  History does not judge men, philosophies or movements  simply by the standards laid down by the entities’ agenda.

Rev. Cutie’, Monsignor Mullen, Archbishop Naumann definitely have the right, perhaps the duty, to preach from their perspective.  That right and duty does not extend to excluding the facts.

As a Gentle Reader, you know that the Catholic Church has been a part of my life since my infant baptism.  You also know that my readings convince me that ‘misogynistic’, ‘disconnected’ and an “institution that continues to promote old ideas” are aligned with history and with fact.  My hope is that we, lay members of the church, can bring about the openness and honesty leading to far-reaching changes.