From Dartmont to Lock Four

Home Economics

It’s a cool forty-plus degrees as we strap the canoe to the top of the SUV. The thought that we might have waited a little too long to make this trip crosses my mind, but I dismiss it quickly. My son is a busy lawyer and when he at last had a date open, we jumped on it, rain or shine. This trip is one of those things that we’ve been talking about for a long time. You know, one of those things you look forward to and that sometimes never quite come to be.

But here we are in the crisp, early morning, fastening the canoe so tight on the rack that it feels like a part of the car when we test it with a push or pull. The paddles are in, the lunch materials and the life jackets are in and in a moment, we are off…

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Learning to Dance


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When Wendell Douglas come back from the war he looked to be about a foot taller.  He’d volunteered as soon as he was of age and shipped out right before the Allies took the beaches in Normandy.  He didn’t see combat, but he sailed on a troop boat to France and worked as a guard in a hospital there for nearly a year.  I saw him come home.  He stepped out of the bus in uniform and carrying his duffle.  It was freezing cold and wind blowing snow everywhere, but he just stepped out onto the sidewalk and walked the two blocks to his house down on Allen Street.  I knew things would pick up in the neighborhood after that, and they did.

In the year that Wendell was overseas I still walked over to White’s Confectionery every now and then.  I’d have a root-beer float and sit there and talk to Mrs. White or her fat daughter, whoever happened to be serving that evening.  The juke box was almost never playing and no one was ever on the little rectangle of a dance floor. The Whites made their money on the junior-high crowd.  The school was only a block away and the kids would flood into there at lunch hour and pack the place and the music would be blaring and kids eating hot dogs and drinking sodas and dancing for all of the forty-five minutes between the two lunch bells. Same thing for the hour after school let out.  I hadn’t been a part of that since I had moved up to the high school.  Evenings at Whites were nothing like that.  Sometimes I was the only customer in the store.  Some winter nights they even hurried me out of the place so they could close down early.  They’d have the lights off before I got out the door.

I’d walk around the neighborhood for a while, even in the cold and snow, just looking at the houses and watching the cars on the streets and up on the state road.  On Wednesday evenings they’d be having prayer meeting at the Church of God and I’d walk by the lit-up windows and sometimes hear them singing, Wendell’s mom playing the piano. Down the next block I’d usually see Missy Harless on the corner of Second and Allen Streets. She’d be standing there under the street lamp in her coat and hat, waiting on the bus to take her to the hospital for the evening shift.  She always spoke. Always called me by name.

By now there were gold stars in the windows of at least one house on every street I walked.  I knew some of the boys who had been killed.  Didn’t know some of the others

I knew that Danny Turley and Doug Griffith and that bunch were somewhere around. Guys who had already graduated but who the Army wouldn’t take.  Danny had somehow managed to get himself a car and he drove it up and down the state road in town and all around the neighborhood, shifting gears and squealing the tires.  My grandpa had told me to steer clear of those boys; that they were heading for trouble, sure as the world.

Every now and then I would get up the nerve to go two blocks over and walk by Janet Thompson’s house.  I’d been inside it a few times when we were little kids, just playing.  But now it was a kind of mysterious place, one I hoped to be inside of again, but not in the same way.  Her house looked different than the others: the yellow light in the windows, the neatly-shoveled and swept walkway and porch steps, the red mailbox by the door.

But when Wendell came home there was no more time for walking around.

Wendell was the only one of us who wasn’t afraid to dance and when the girls found out he was back in town the evening traffic at White’s Confectionary picked up right away.  He’d head over there right after dinner and order a soda and fill the jukebox with nickels and have the music going strong before the girls started to filter in. For the first few weeks he wore his uniform nearly everywhere.

He’d learned new dances in France and the girls were wild for him to teach them.  In a few weeks it became obvious that he had a strong preference for Beverly Thompson.  None of us were surprised by that; she was the beauty of the town.  But I’d had my eye on her sister Janet for a long time. Since junior high at least.  I saw her standing in her yard one day.  I was on the way down to the school courts to look for a basketball game and she was just out there by the little maple tree.  She saw me and smiled and I admitted something to myself then and there that I had probably been feeling a long time and just didn’t want to own up to.  I liked her. Almost enough to make a public confession of it.  Almost.  But I worried. What if she didn’t want to hear any such thing from me?  Or what if I said it and then changed my mind?  I’d done that kind of thing before.

And so, it was never anything more than polite hellos between her and me.  I had a class with her once, but didn’t sit close to her. Other guys took her to the school dances and I just never asked anybody.  But once Wendell came home and people started congregating in White’s Confectionary again, I got up the nerve to talk to her and I swore to myself that when the opportunity came, I’d ask her to dance, two left feet and all. I’d asked Wendell if he could tell me anything that would help me get those moves he’d learned in France but he just said it wasn’t the kind of thing you could learn by talking about it.  “You just got to get out there and move.  I don’t know what I’m doing half the time.  Just go on and get out there.  Nothing is going to happen unless you try.  She don’t really care if you can dance.  She only cares about whether you’ll ask her.”

Well, one evening Janet and Beverly and Wendell and a bunch of other kids were there. We’d been talking a lot that evening and there were other people around talking, but then there were just the two of us and “Wonderland By Night” came on the juke box and she looked at me and smiled and said “This is my favorite song.” And I had been told that slow dances were the easiest to fake and I knew that this was it, this was my chance, and that she knew it too and if I passed this one up there might not be another one and so I said “Let’s dance,” and we stood and she took my hand and before I knew it, we were dancing and it was so easy. I’ll tell you the truth, I’d thought a lot about Janet Thompson.  What it might be like to be with her.  Have her choose me.  But I had never imagined how dancing with her would feel.  I moved and she responded.  It was as if she was weightless.  I started that evening hoping I’d never have to dance and I ended it hoping that dancing with Janet would never end.   Everybody in town – well, almost everybody – thought her older sister was better looking, but Janet was the better dancer.  No question about that.

After that night, Janet and I kind of got in the habit of sitting at the same table with Wendell and Beverly and listening to his stories about what he’d seen and done in France. Wendell had got on down at the lumberyard and he told me that they were hiring right then and that I should get down there and apply.  “You’ll be in the yard for a while,” he said.  “But with the war over and everybody coming home, the lumber business is going to boom.  They’ve already bought three more acres just to stack more boards.  The way business is going you’ll make it into sales in no time and start getting paid on commission.”

 Janet was enthusiastic about that, and when I told her I’d got the job, she was straightforward about getting married.  “What’s the point of all this flirting around if we aren’t going to do it?  You know, the whole thing?”  I wasn’t really ready for the question, but the answer was easier than I thought it would be.  Things had been going well for me down at the yard.   I had a knack for estimating costs and amounts and I felt confident that I’d be able to handle it all, sales and everything. I knew what my grandpa would tell me to do without ever asking him.  

“We should get married,” I said. “Why not?”

Word of our decision got back to Wendell real quick and I guess that Beverly must’ve asked him something like what Janet had asked me.  Wendell told me that they were going to do it – tie the knot.  “Why don’t we do it together?’ he asked.  “You think the girls would like that?  Their church is just over there on the corner.”

It was easier than I thought it would be.  Their folks were both happy about it and the preacher was ready for us.  Wendell wore his uniform at the ceremony.

His mom played the piano.

copyright 2021

no place for a young girl

Joseph E Bird

Every year about this time we go to the cemeteries and clean the graves of those who have gone before. It makes you realize how fast time flies. Has it really been that long? And then there are all those forgotten graves. What was their story? Maybe this.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
up the steep gravel road,
through the woods
to the clearing
where the old grey headstones
were covered in moss
and leaned toward the earth
as if they were too tired
to stand up straight,
for so long they had stood in testament to
the forgotten lives
of those whose names were
were worn from the stone
by the unrelenting and unforgiving
passage of time.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
because there were snakes
and yellow jackets
and maybe bears.
and at night
across the hollows
voices and laughter and music

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carnival dreams

Joseph E Bird

you said you’d be pleased
to walk by my side
to breathe the night air
maybe go for a ride

so we walk down the shore
toward the music and light
with your hand in mine
feeling good, feeling right

then we stop for a drink
sipping cola on ice
and watch the wheel roll
and a toss of the dice

the carousel goes ’round
with the kids holding tight
never wanting to fall
but knowing they might.


and we’re walking the midway
the music is playing
and I’m wishing tomorrow
that you would be staying

my time here with you
is not what it seems
everything that I hope for
is a carnival dream


the smell of food fills the air
and it’s prodding my hunger
and your laugh fills my ear
makes me wish I was younger

i’d ask you to stay
to let go of…

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the genius of Andrew Spradling (a repost of Joseph Bird)

Andrew Spradling

156Here are some hints and clues as to the nature of my next project. A sincere thanks to Shelton College Review member Joseph Bird, who is completing his FIFTH novel, for these flattering thoughts and comments – please follow link and read HIS post, my reason for writing today. 

Let me add that if you are an independent writer at the beginning stages of this game, find yourself a writers group to bounce ideas off, help edit, support, and encourage. Along with our founder Larry Ellis, Joe and I are in a positive, fun, informative situation that very much helps me in my quest for completing a third novel, following The Long Shadow of Hope, and The Lost Lantern. The photo, for photography buffs, is from a recent Charleston (WV) Live On The Levee, and is a situation in her game of cat and mouse that Harper Stowe…

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lost in a room

Here is a fine segment from his forthcoming novel. This is a real treat.

Joseph E Bird

An excerpt from my novel, Heather Girl.  If you’re new, here’s the backstory.  Heather’s elderly father has been paroled from prison in Texas where he’s been serving a sentence for the murder of her mother. He’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, and through a series of unexpected events, he’s staying with Heather until she can make other arrangements. Her brother has died and a friend of her father’s from prison, Darnell, aka Booger, has come to visit.  In this scene, about two-thirds through the novel, Heather, who has her own serious health issues, has taken a nasty fall in the garage of her home, where she found one of her mother’s private journals.

She stood, lightheaded at first, but quickly steadied herself. She tried to move her right arm, but again the pain was unbearable. She knew it was broken. She reached behind her head and felt the knot, then traced…

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