Tales of Christopher Columbus Seal, and his wife Lydia

Christopher Columbus “CC” Seal was born August 17, 1879 in Hancock County, Tennessee, son of Evan and Mary Jane (Manning) Seal. It is not currently known how many siblings he had, however it is presumed that there were several, as families of that time, particularly in rural communities, were quite large with several children to help with chores and working the family farm.

On September 17, 1899, 20-year-old CC married Lydia Sue Spears, who was 15. They were married in the town of Sneedville, the county seat of Hancock, and by August of 1900, welcomed their only surviving child into the world, Sarah Elizabeth.

At some point within the next 10 years, Evan and wife Mary Jane, along with CC and his family, as well as possible other members of the Seal family, packed up their belongings in covered wagons and moved to Ozark County, Missouri, settling near the town of Thornfield. In June of 1913, Evan Seal died, and CC packed up Lydia and Sarah and moved to a little farm east of Ava, Missouri, several miles northeast of Thornfield, on a dusty trail called the Happy Home Road. By this time, CC was a circuit preacher, riding on horseback to preach at several churches in the area. In those days the circuit preacher would travel on Saturday to the town where he was to preach the next day. Some layperson would volunteer to receive the preacher, feed him dinner Saturday evening, then let him sleep at their home that night so that he would be rested and ready to deliver a sermon on Sunday morning. Then the preacher would mount up and ride home that afternoon, after his belly was full from a hearty lunch. Such was CC’s life, allowing him to work his farm through the week, then preach on weekends, save for the occasional revival gig or Wednesday night preacher opportunity.

In late 1917, CC and Lydia took in 18-month-old Walter Lauren Wilson. Walter’s entire family had been wiped out by the influenza epidemic that was sweeping the nation at the time. Though they never formally nor legally adopted Walter, they raised him as their own child, and he became like a brother to Sarah (although family legend tells that he was given preferential treatment because of the loss of his family, and Sarah was never given a fair shake).

On October 10, 1921, Sarah married Orville Nelson Ritter, and they moved to a farm a couple of miles west but still on the same Happy Home Road as her parents. They began having children, then moved to the little town of Hammond in Ozark County and had more children including twins, then by 1941 moved back to the Happy Home Road outside Ava, onto a farm next door to Sarah’s parents, CC and Lydia. By this time Sarah had given birth to 11 children, 9 of whom lived to adulthood.

It is from their later years in life that many stories surface about CC and Lydia. Interesting peculiarities began to surface, which became the fodder of many stories, tales and legends.

Drowning in Goat’s Milk

Country folks of the early twentieth century did not have the luxury of immediately available health care.  This often led to the creation of many home cures for ailments and injuries.  Folks took what knowledge they possessed about nutrition and existing remedies and often created their own variations to help ease whatever was bothering them.

CC had been fighting a cold for some time and could not get much in the way of relief.  This cold was hindering his ability to fulfill his basic duties, so at some point he began to ponder what he could do to start feeling better.  Among the home remedies that came to mind, the old method of breathing steaming vapors seemed appealing.

Being a creative man, CC thought of taking the healing process one step further.  Recalling that his mother Mary Jane had often given him goat’s milk when he felt bad, he decided this would be a nice addition to the treatment.

He collected some goat’s milk in a large pot and began to heat it on the stove.  Traditionally people lowered their head over a pan of steaming water and covered their head with a towel to trap the vapors for the full effect.  CC grabbed a towel, leaned over and covered his head and the pan with the towel.

At some point he must have recalled that he typically drank the milk, and that people inhaled the vapors, so he decided to combine the two processes—he stuck his head in the steaming goat’s milk and sucked in through his nose for all he was worth.

CC almost drowned in his own kitchen.

He pulled his head out of the pan and backed away from the stove, sputtering and spitting and blowing and coughing until he could again breathe halfway normally. Red-eyed and gasping for air, CC stumbled his way back to the living room, collapsing in his rocking chair.

It is not known what ever became of his cold.

Chewing Tobacco and Pyrez Dishes

The late Mary (Moore) Ritter, first wife of Delmas Ritter (one of Sarah’s twins), told an interesting tale of her first encounter with CC and particularly Lydia.

On this particular visit, Delmas and Mary had only been married a few months and were expecting the birth of their first child, Debbie.  As Debbie was born in January of 1961, this event must have taken place sometime during the late spring or early summer of 1960 (It should be noted that this visit would have taken place not quite a year after a tragic and fatal fire swept through Orville and Sarah’s home, next door to CC and Lydia. Orville died from pneumonia a few days later, while one of their sons, Dewey, died in the fire, along with is 18-month-old son Gary. Sarah at this time was in St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, recuperating from her burns).

Since this was the first to Ava since getting married, it was Mary’s first opportunity to meet CC and Lydia. Everyone sat in the living room of the old shack, with Delmas and Mary seated on the old couch, and as had become their usual style, Lydia and CC were seated side by side in their creaky wooden rocking chairs. Mary noticed they each had large metal coffee cans on the floor next to each of their rocking chairs. Apparently both CC and Lydia had taken a liking to chewing tobacco, and their preference was the old-style twist tobacco.  CC would take a package with the thick slab of tobacco out of his pocket along with his pocket knife, open up the knife and cut off a chunk for Lydia, pass it over to her, then cut a chunk for himself. Then he would close up the pocket knife and slip it back in his pants pocket, the close up the package of tobacco, and slip it back in his pocket as well. He then would return to rocking, as he and Lydia were content to chew the wad in their mouths, occasionally leaning over to spit in their respective cans.

As a sidebar, it is worth noting that while they both thought nothing of chewing tobacco, apparently Lydia had an aversion to seeing anyone smoking a cigarette.  Once Elda June, one of Sarah’s daughters, got into quite the tiff with Lydia over cigarette smoking, when Lydia decided to tear into June over the cigarette in her hand.

“That’s sinful!  How can you dare to smoke that cigarette like that!  You should be ashamed of yourself! That’s sinful!” growled Lydia at June.

June was a beautiful, feisty young woman, and she wasn’t about to take such an attack from Lydia without having her say. June snapped back, “Well what in the hell would you rather me do?  Chew that damned old nasty chewing tobaccer?!”

Allegedly, Lydia just turned away and did not say another word about June’s smoking, which tickled the other family members in the room who witnessed the exchange.

Back to Delmas and Mary’s visit, apparently Lydia was not pleased at this first meeting.  She gave Mary some evil looks, grunted and snorted under her breath, “I don’t like this woman comin’ and takin’ away my boy!”

Delmas heard this, and replied, “Grandma, we’ve gotten married and we are expecting our first young’un,” to which Lydia grunted in disgust.

Finally CC had listened to all he was going to.  He turned to Lydia and scolded her, snapping his finger and pointing towards Mary.

“You leave her alone!  She’s alright! She’s got a blue dress on!”

Apparently CC liked Mary’s blue dress, so in his book, she was ok.  After CC’s scolding, Lydia decided to quiet down a bit.

Both CC and Lydia died in 1962, within less than a month of each other. CC died November 12, while Lydia passed away on December 6. About a year before their deaths, Delmas and Mary were again at the old farmhouse visiting the Seals.  Lydia’s frustration had long since passed, and she and Mary had developed a nice relationship.  As was a typical tradition back in those days, Lydia decided that she wanted to give Mary something of hers, to remember her by.

“Here, dear,” Lydia said, handing Mary a dark opaque Pyrex casserole dish, “I’d like for you to have this. It’s been one of my favorite dishes, and I want you to have it.”

“Thank you Grandma!” Mary smiled and gave Lydia a kiss on the cheek.

Later, when Delmas and Mary returned home, she began cleaning the old dish.  It was greasy and dirty, as Lydia’s version of washing dishes was said to have been just wiping the dish out with an old rag then putting it away.  As Mary began cleaning the dish, she discovered something that surprised her:  the dish was not a dark opaque glass as it had appeared; it was clear.  All those years of cooking and just wiping out the dish had make it look dark, but once Mary got it all cleaned up, it was as clear as a new window.

Delmas and Mary had a good laugh over it.  That dish became a treasured piece, and an amusing reminder of a loving last gift.

Facing the Bully

Bullying. What an awful thing, the terrorizing of another human being, whether by torturing their mind or body, just because the bully doesn’t like them, for one reason or another. You hear mostly about teens being victims of such terror, though it knows no age limit. And it’s gotten more sophisticated, utilizing the social media outlets to harass. Horrible.

I must admit, I never was the victim of bullying all through elementary school. And nothing really substantial ever happened in high school. But when I was 13, in 7th grade, I was targeted. And it was hell. But I never dreamed it would play out the way it did…

To say that I did not adjust well to 7th grade is an understatement. Being backward, scared, and unknowingly suffering from severe depression, I did not make a smooth transition from elementary school to junior high. The first quarter I missed at least one day each week, usually feigning some illness or injury that would hopefully keep me at home so that I wouldn’t have to deal with that big school, and that big world. It all frightened me terribly.

One day, when I was actually at school and sitting at lunch with my friend Robbie, two 8th graders walked by on the other side of the table. Just as they walked in front of me and Robbie, the chair on their side of the table got kicked into Randy, the guy in front. Looking back, I know damn good and well that I didn’t kick the chair. It had to have been Robbie.

Randy was sure it was me, and he and his friend Jerry leaned down and proceeded to tell me how they were going to beat the living shit out of me, amongst other threats, while Robbie sat there and watched with eyes as big as saucers. I kept telling Randy and Jerry that I didn’t know what they were talking about, and that I didn’t do anything. They didn’t believe me, and eventually left.

Robbie turned and looked at me, and said, “Man, what are you going to do?”

I just shrugged and said, “There’s nothing I can do.”

I wanted to run and never come back to school, but I knew I couldn’t do that. And I knew I couldn’t tell my parents about it. The last time I had brought up fighting, my dad told me that if I didn’t double up my fist and hit someone, he was going to double up his fist and hit me. So I knew it was useless the talk with anyone at home, because that would just make life more difficult if Dad ever found out. Hmm, that almost makes Dad my own personal bully, doesn’t it?

Anyway, over the course of the school year, neither Randy nor Jerry ever ended up beating the shit out of me like they threatened. But the threats didn’t end. When 7th Grade Hell Week came around, Jerry and Randy were standing in front of us 7th grade boys in the gym before school, pointing out the guys they were going to beat up. When they saw me, they both grinned and said, “We are so going to beat YOU up!”

My friend Billy Vanzandt was nearby and jumped up and said, “No, no! He’s cool, leave him alone!”

For some reason Randy and Jerry listened to him and said, “Nevermind.”

Of course, that made me Billy’s friend for life.

Eventually Randy took great joy in calling me a name any time he saw me. He would get right up in my face and say “Pussy!” and walk away laughing. That went on until the end of the year. I was so glad to see that school year end, as I knew Randy and Jerry would not be at Harry P. Study Junior High the next year, and I would be ok.

After junior high, I managed to adjust well to high school, and I think I only saw Randy once when I got to high school. I didn’t know if we were just never in the same hallway or what, but I was glad to be left alone.

Fast forward through life, and about 30 years after that awful 7th grade year, I was a plant engineer and maintenance supervisor at a local chemical plant. We hired a couple of new maintenance technicians, and somehow I had missed out on the interview process. So the day they were to start working there, I went over to the other supervisor’s office to find out their names, so that I could introduce myself. When the supervisor told me their names, I nearly fell over. One of them was Randy.

I double-checked the name and asked to see the resume or application he provided. Dennis didn’t have either, and asked me what was wrong. I told him if it was the same Randy (I’m intentionally leaving out his last name, if you hadn’t already figured that out), then he had bullied me in 7th grade.

Dennis looked at me funny and said, “Are you going to be able to work with this guy or are you going to want to beat the shit out of him?”

“I’ll be just fine,” I said, smiling. But I couldn’t help thinking, “I can’t wait to see this son-of-a-bitch.”

Finally, in walked Randy, and I went over and shook his hand, introducing myself, and I was amazed to see this person in front of me. That bully that had made so many threats and said so many awful things to me had, like most of us, put on quite a few pounds since those days, and I couldn’t help notice he was actually shorter than me. But his personality got me more than anything else. He was docile as a lamb, quiet spoken, and obviously nervous on his first day.

I didn’t say anything further to him that day, nor the next day, nor the next, but so many feelings came flooding back, thinking about how he had treated me at a vulnerable point in my life, but I knew that time had obviously changed this person considerably. It all spun around in my head for a while.

One day, after he had been there for a week or so, I was filling in for the other supervisor, and Randy and I were visiting for a moment.

“What’s your name again?” he asked.

“Tim Ritter.”

“Hmm. Tim Ritter. Tim Ritter. Why do I know that name?”

I knew now was my chance, and I knew how I wanted to play it.

“I’ll tell you why,” I said, standing up straight, “You and I both went to Study Junior High. You were in 8th grade, I was in 7th.”

And that’s all I said, and I just stood there and looked at him.

Suddenly I saw the light go on in his eyes. He remembered.

He let out a long, slow, drawn out, quiet, “Oh yeaaaaaaah,” and his face turned red.

“Yep,” was all I said, and I walked away.

I had wanted to say so many things, but 30 years is a long time to hold onto anything like that, so I let that conversation settle it. I knew who he was, and he knew that I knew who he was.

Randy didn’t last long at the chemical plant. He ended up quitting, saying he didn’t feel comfortable working around all those deadly chemicals. I don’t know where he ended up working or what had happened in his life to change him.

It felt kinda good to close a chapter that I hadn’t even realized was still open. The bully in him was dead, and the scared little kid in me had grown up. That was enough.

But it certainly taught me that fate is indeed a strange thing, and that you should indeed be kind to everyone. If you’re not, it may come back to you, even 30 years later…


A Little Bit about Civil War Reenacting, At Least From My Perspective

I was having a conversation this evening with one of my friends, and he was telling me about a customer that came in to his store and began talking about Civil War history. My friend was impressed with his vast knowledge of the war. And it reminded me of all the people I have encountered that have amazed me with their Civil War history knowledge. And it also reminded me of how many times I have told someone that I am a reenactor, and they have automatically assumed I am an expert on the war. Quite frankly, I’m not.

I love history, and the Civil War period fascinates me from all angles, especially how it ties into my own family history. And indeed I carry around alot of knowledge about the war in Missouri, and around Springfield. I’m also continuously dissecting in my mind the events that took place on May 18, 1864 in Ava, MO, then known as Militia Springs, and the battle that day that took the life of my great-great-great grandfather and many others. But that’s a discussion for another day.. maybe a book…

I’ve been grilled about my knowledge of the Civil War, almost quizzed to death, to the point where I’ve wanted to yell “Uncle!” and run for my life.

For me, reenacting is not about knowing all there is to know about the war and being able to provide a dissertation about it at a moment’s notice. There are many friends of mine in the hobby who do have that kind of knowledge, and I marvel at what they know. But that’s just not me, not why I’m there.

I like getting deep into the personal perspective of the war experience. When people are walking through the camp asking questions, I want to share with them the personal side of being a soldier in the war. If I find people who are willing to play along, I’ll line them up and grill them like they are new recruits (boys around 8-14 are usually perfect for that). When I’m teaching a class of school kids about the war, I’m talking to them from a very personal perspective, about what the soldier really went through. And when our battalion is lined up and getting ready to go into battle, I’m thinking about what it would have been like to have been standing there, waiting, during the real thing.

If you’ve read Volume 1 of my series of books about reenacting, called Cooter Up, you know that the narratives are told from a very personal perspective. I might have a little history in there, but it’s mostly about what I saw, what I heard, what I felt.

This coming year, I’m going to bring about some changes in my regiment, the 3rd Missouri Dismounted Cavalry, to hopefully enhance each man’s experience on the field and in camp. I’m going to try to add enhancements to camp life that bring the war closer to the hearts of the men, and hopefully improve their experience.

Soon I will be posting the schedule for this year’s events, and with any luck, I’ll be able to initiate a new website for the regiment. I’d like to invite you all to a battle this year, as there are a few very close by, one in Hartville, one near Greenfield. Come see us, come watch the fight, come visit the camps. Hopefully you will catch some of that personal feeling I speak of.

Names and dates and locations are important and worth noting. But what went on inside the heart of every man on the field, and every woman either left at home or following the army as a refugee, is where the real story lives.

A great conversation with Ted Prater, retired colonel of the First Missouri Battalion (From the Archives, Published 3/8/13)

Hi folks!  I have to share a little something pertaining to a conversation I had a few days ago with one of my dearest friends from reenacting.

I called up Ted Prater, who was formerly colonel of the First Missouri Battalion.  He’s one of the most honorable men I’ve ever known, and I’m truly grateful and honored to be his friend.  I had called him to discuss my upcoming book on reenacting, and wanted to ask his permission to use his full name in the book, which of course he agreed to graciously. Then we got to talking about all kinds of memories from our field experiences.

Amongst all the stories, we got to talking about the late General Beck.  Beck was ornery, a bit hard to wrangle, and full of spitfire.  There are lots of Beck stories circulating around.

Ted got to laughing about how Beck just could not stay on a horse.  He wasn’t much of a horse guy, and most likely whatever horse he was on knew it.

He said one time they were at an event, all the commanders were on horseback, and Beck called everyone over to talk.  So all the horses were bunched up together, with his horse in the middle.  He said the way Beck was sitting cockeyed in the saddle, he had dug his spurs into the horse’s side pretty hard.  But surrounded like he was, the horse just stood there and took it.

Anyway, once the conference was overwith, everyone began to back up.  Apparently as soon as Beck’s horse got freed from the surrounding horses, he decided he’d had enough of Beck and sent him airborne.

Naturally I was laughing, thinking about Beck being thrown off this horse.

Then Ted said, “You know, Beck spent more time as a lawn dart than he ever did actually in the saddle.”  I laughed so hard I cried, thinking about Beck as a lawn dart, sailing through the air, because he’d gotten thrown off a horse again.

It did my ole heart good to talk with Ted.  You’ll read more about him and General Beck in Cooter Up.  Just wanted to share the “Beck as a lawn dart” image!

Remembering Cassie (From the Archives, Published 4/9/13)

Sorry for the lack of blogs recently, but I’ve been terribly sick.  But it’s time to purge some thoughts…

Those of you that have read Soul Sketches have a firm grip on the fact that I am very sentimental and soft hearted.  I’m also an animal lover, and tonight my heart is very heavy since we had to say goodbye to our cat Cassie.  She was 17 years old and an absolute joy, truly a one-of-a-kind cat.

We got Cassie 8 years ago, rescuing her from the local humane society where she was a mere 3 days away from being euthanized to make room for more cats.  She was 9 years old, much older than all the other cats, and was fairly anti-social, laying in her box with her back to the room, pretty much ignoring everyone.  She caught our attention because she was so much older.

Once we got her out of her cage, we noticed that she was polydactyl, which made her that much more special to us.

When we got her home and got to know her, we discovered evidence that she had been abused in her earlier years.  She had, of all things, tattoos on her.  She had a date in one ear, which we eventually assumed to be her birth month and year, and had some symbol tattooed in her other ear.  Then we found some other symbol tattooed on her belly.  This horrified us, thinking how awful it must have been to be a kitten and have some loud tattoo gun painfully putting marks in each ear and on her belly.  And also to think of how she must have been painfully restrained for this to happen.

We also noticed her right front leg moved and looked differently from her left.  It appeared at some point her leg had been broken or dislocated, but she had found a way to make it work for her, and she had an interesting swinging action she did with that leg to walk.

So we had a special cat on our hands with special needs.  She was a bush dweller, so she never jumped up on counters or tables.  She usually never jumped on a couch or chair first, you typically had to invite her up.  She didn’t like to be picked up at all, and would rather sit by you than climb on you.  She was very vocal and had a lot of calls that she would issue at various times of the day.

One of the wildest things that developed with her was her water drinking habits.  One day I had left a cup of water on the floor by me, and she came over and sniffed at it.  Watching her size it up, I told Lori that I thought she was going to take a drink out of it.  Sure enough, she stuck her head in it and drank for quite some time.  From that point on, we made sure that we always had a cup like that of water in that same spot, and it was her treat.  She usually sang one of her calls when she was getting ready to drink from that cup.  I decided that call was her “water song”.

As she aged we went through several health issues with her, but she always came back in fine shape.  However such was not the case most recently, beginning a couple of weeks ago.  She was having a few issues that sounded like she had a pretty solid cold.  So we took her in to be checked and got some meds for her.  Soon after that, we noticed that her tail had gone completely limp, and that she appeared to have no control over it.  That concerned us, so we took her back in to be checked.  The vets couldn’t find any evidence of injury but were quite concerned as well.  They also kept her over a couple of nights, noting that she had several issues including being dehydrated, which seemed weird considering all the fresh water she drinks from the cup I mentioned.

We got her back home, and were continuing to pump medicine into her.  Then suddenly one morning, while I was feeling so sick, Lori noticed that Cassie had lost the use of her back legs.  Her muscle mass had disintegrated almost overnight, and she also had no control over her bodily functions.  She ran Cassie over to the vet, and he said it appeared to be a degenerative neurological thing.  That was a serious blow.  We knew time was limited, although we didn’t speak much of it.

Finally, today, while I was still home sick from work, the whole situation became worse, as she tried to move around and would get stuck.  Plus she was holed up in one room, as we feared that she would fall down the stairs if she got out of that room.  Her calls became more like cries, and we knew that this may be it.

We took her over to the vet, and in the midst of the discussion, it became clear that now was the time to make the hard decision.  She had lost the use of her legs, and her muscle mass would never return.  So she would never walk again.  Her loss of bodily function was so obvious.  She was wetting all over herself, and didn’t even know she was defecating at one point.  Plus I noticed that her urine was missing that strong ammonia smell, indicating that something may be wrong with her kidneys, if she could even feel them.

She had been such a good, sweet, loving cat, we knew it was not right to make her linger under such circumstances, especially since it was going to get worse as a degenerative thing.  We couldn’t do that to her.  We knew it was time to let her go.  It hurt terribly, but we knew it was time.

So our sweet loving cat Cassie is now departed, and it’s a hard thing to deal with.  We hope she knew how much we loved her, and we hope that her 8 years here at this home were better than her first 9 years.  We will miss her for a long time.

Thanks for reading…

More From the Facebook Numbers Game (From the Archives, published 11/17/13)

: If you’re on Facebook, you’ve most likely seen one of the latest games going around, involving sharing a certain number of facts about you. If you are not familiar with it, here’s a simple summary:

A person you know posts a certain number of facts about themselves. If you give that posting a “Like”, then that person will assign you a number, and that’s the number of things you are supposed to post about yourself.  Then, if one of your friends gives you a “Like” for your post, you assign them a number, and so on.

My dear sister Kathy posted such a list, and already being familiar with the game, I gave her post a “Like” and she assigned me the number 15.  I promptly posted 15 things about myself. It was fun, and others joined in so I gave away lots of numbers.

After playing the game and watching other friends enjoy posting, I got to thinking about how freeing and liberating it can be to just simply share things about yourself. As an extroverted introvert, I have a hard time initiating a conversation about myself, but then once I have shared something, it feels pretty good.  So I was thinking, I’d like to expand what I wrote on Facebook, and add a few more things about myself, so that maybe you can learn a little more about me, and perhaps we can discover something we have in common.

So, to start out, here is my original list of 15 things that appeared on Facebook:

  1. My parents were expecting a girl when I was born, so they had not picked out a boy’s name. So they had to scramble to come up with Timothy Lee.
  2. I have a birthmark on the lower park of my neck,… and from kindergarten through 12th grade, people who noticed it always thought I had a hickey.
  3. I have always been and will always be scared to death of having my head under water.
  4. I have always had an intense thing for women wearing boots, ever since I first saw a picture of Nancy Sinatra when I was 5. A woman in boots has my undivided attention.
  5. I have 7 writing projects going on at once.
  6. My office is adorned with pictures of writers that I admire, like Shelby Foote, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Dan Holohan, and Ric Burns. I also have pictures of my grandpa Earl Moore; my great-grandmother, the story teller, Eliza Jane (Lee) Ritter; Eliza’s father, Robert Nelson Lee; and my great-great grandfather Richardson Ritter.
  7. I am a huge supporter of mental health. I’ve battled depression my entire life, and have finally beaten it, not with medication, but with good counseling and hard work.
  8. In all my years of public speaking, I have always been dreadfully nervous until I speak my first word. Then all the nervousness disappears.
  9. I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was 9.
  10. I am a 1988 graduate of the University of Missouri – Rolla (now Missouri S&T) with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
  11. I am a proud 1983 graduate of Central High School in Springfield.
  12. I would like to travel back in time to meet my ancestors.
  13. I have an autograph from John Ritter.
  14. When my parents were in local music shows when I was around 4, my brother and I used to sing “Where Oh Where Are You Tonight” and my job was to spit in the microphone, a task which I performed well.
  15. The explanations for several of my poems start out with “I was in love with this girl…”

So now, here are a few more things I’d like to share:

  1. When I was little, I was terrified of clowns. When I was 4, a clown chased me through the music theater where my parents were singers. The manager of the theater ended up throwing the guy out. He was my hero after that.
  2. I have never, nor will I ever, do any sort of drug.
  3. I spent a short amount of time serving as a pulpit-fill preacher. When I was a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination, I was hired to fill in when preachers were out of town. After doing that for a short time, I realized that while I felt strongly about my beliefs and spirituality, I didn’t really know what I was talking about and needed to shut up and sit down in the pew and listen for a change.
  4. I had my first job when I was 9, helping my dad at his part-time night job as a janitor at a local radio station. I would scrub sinks and toilets, sweep, dust, and dump trash. I loved it, and never got paid a dime, since the job was really dad’s and I was just in 4th grade.
  5. I’ve had a recurring nightmare of being on a very high platform, like being atop a TV tower, with nothing to hold on to, and the tower starts swaying in high winds.
  6. I am a fan of the Saw movies, the Band of Brothers series, Spike Jones records and TV shows, Ernie Kovacs, and just about anything Steve Martin does.
  7. I am a fan of Tim Conway, and do a pretty good impersonation of Mr. Tudball, as well as the Old Man character from the old Carol Burnett show.
  8. My nickname in high school was Beaker (as in the Muppet Show puppet). I have a Beaker figure in my office.
  9. Did I mention I have a thing for women in boots? I said that. Ok…
  10. I currently have 91 books about the Civil War in my library.
  11. The trip I took to Iowa back around Easter this year was the first time I had taken a trip for pleasure/relaxation in 6 years.
  12. When people hear that I am a Civil War reenactor, they instantly believe that I am an expert at all the details and dates associated with the war. I’m not really.  I am an amateur historian and enjoy reading about the war and studying it, but I am no expert. My favorite subject pertaining to the conflict is the activities within Missouri, as well as the battles that the real Third Missouri Dismounted Cavalry was in. I guess that’s why I have 91 books about the war in my library.  I’m no expert, so I need resources to look things up when I write or talk about the war.
  13. When I was 5, the doctor asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him I wanted to be a monkey in the circus. We had been to the Shrine Circus when it was in town, and there was a guy in a big monkey suit chasing a girl around.  I thought, “Hey, that’s the job for me!”
  14. Growing up in a musical family, I was the only child out of 4 that did not learn to play an instrument.
  15. I love the holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas. I put out so many lights at Christmastime, my property almost looks like a landing strip for Santa’s sleigh. I always dedicate my Christmas decorating to the memory of my mother, who loved Christmas lights and decorations.
  16. I plan to go on a ghost hunt in the near future. I’ve had several paranormal experiences in my life and would like to explore that kind of thing further.
  17. I know I could live just about anywhere else, but I absolutely love Missouri and the Ozarks. I have no desire to leave.
  18. I enjoy cooking, and I’ve actually traded recipes with my sisters.
  19. One of the most breathtaking scenes I’ve ever beheld was the sun coming up over the Olympic Mountains in Washington state. I’d love to go back.
  20. I do a lot of thinking when I mow my yard.
  21. I love thunderstorms and winter storms.  I think there is something incredibly romantic about being safe and warm inside while a storm rages outside. I’ve always wanted to snuggle with someone special while such a storm occurs.
  22. I’m a hopeless romantic.
  23. I don’t care about approaching the age of 50. I still feel like I’m in my 30s.
  24. I used to sing bass in the choir at a church I used to belong to.  I also sang as a high baritone in a men’s quartet at that same church.
  25. I would live at Silver Dollar City in Branson if I could.
  26. I had never been camping before I started Civil War reenacting.
  27. I’ve only been hunting once.  Dad took my sister and I with him to hunt quail. We didn’t see a quail all day, but shot a lot of trees. Now I only shoot with my camera.
  28. I want to be on the Today Show, Ellen, Rachael Ray, and the late night talk shows to talk about writing and to motivate others to write if that is their true desire.
  29. Plans are underway for me to start doing podcasts in 2014.
  30. I’d like to travel to Europe, especially Great Britain and Germany.
  31. I’m scared of heights.
  32. I collect Santa Claus figures.
  33. I am an extra in the upcoming “Baldknobber” movie.
  34. I love Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Baby Ruth candy bars.
  35. I hate spiders.

Ok, I’ll stop there. Hey, if you and I are not friends on Facebook, why not? Send me a friend request, I’d love to know you are reading my blog.

A Birthday Remembrance for a Great Storyteller (From the Archives, published 11/2/13)

As I sit here, beginning to write this post, it’s 11:20 on Friday night.  In 40 minutes, it will be Saturday, November 2, the birthday of my great-grandmother, Eliza Jane (Lee) Ritter.  She was born in Douglas County, Missouri, in 1876, so it will be her 137th birthday.

I never had the honor of meeting her, as she died in July of 1954, 10 years before I was born. But I have learned so much about her, and about her legacy, that I wish I could have spent hours in her presence.

For many years, all I knew about her was that she was born Eliza Jane Lee, married my great grandfather Simon Ritter in January of 1894, and had four children that lived, including my grandfather, Simon Orville Ritter. I have a few pictures of her, including one which I suspect to be her wedding picture in 1894, shown above.  It’s a tintype, with her sitting there, arm in arm with Simon.  They both have a bit of a bewildered look on their faces.  Another tintype, taken a few years later, shows Eliza standing, her hand resting on Simon’s shoulder, as he is seated next to her.  Another photo is of her standing next to her brother Mose. They both appear to be in the 30s or 40s in that picture. Another photo is a big family photo, with her standing behind Simon, both of them obviously in their later years.  The last photo I have of her was taken shortly before her death, standing with my grandfather and her daughter, Dora.

My dad spoke of her once, many years ago, and he just remembered her being a bit of a chatterbox.  He said she talked all the time, following her parents around their house, talking constantly.

But just recently, I acquired a videotape of Dad’s cousin Jack, a man who I love dearly and respect, sitting in front of a videocamera telling stories of his childhood and things he remembers about the Ritter family. One subject he spends a lot of time talking about is dear old Eliza Jane.

Jack remembers her very differently compared to Dad’s memories.  It makes sense, as he spent many more hours around Eliza than my dad ever did, since she lived with Jack and his parents after her husband Simon died.  Jack’s dad, Richard, built her a little home on his property and helped care for her.

Jack tells of Eliza being a great storyteller. He said he could sit in front of her for hours and listen to her tell stories. He said she had a certain way of telling her stories, to draw you in, make you become part of it. And if you’ve ever heard a true great storyteller spin a tale, you know what Jack is talking about.  The way they use inflection in their voice, use great gestures with their arms, create great expressions on their faces, they can drag the listener into the story and take them along for the ride. Eliza was just such a storyteller.

There is one particular story, Jack said, that he never grew tired of. It was the story about when Eliza’s mother, along with a young Eliza and her siblings, were all chased by a mountain lion, or panther, as they called them back in those days. He said he knew the story by heart, but always asked her to tell it, just so that he could hear her and enjoy the way she told it.

So, in honor of my dear Eliza’s birthday, I’m going to attempt to tell The Panther Story, as I believe she would have told it:

“It was a hot and sticky August evening. You know the kind, where you sweat and you stay wet because the humidity is so high, and the dust sticks to you. It was that kind of evening, and all of us kids were outside, running around with Mama as she picked some vegetables for dinner. There were carrots and green beans, tomatoes and turnips.  She held all those delicious things in her apron as she held it out in front of her.

Us kids were running around, pestering each other. Mose kept tossing rocks at me, and I’d throw them back. I was a better shot, and I hit him good a couple of times.

Suddenly, in the midst of all that ruckus, we heard a panther scream.  Have you ever heard the scream of a panther? You may not have. They don’t roam the area like they used to.  When I was a little girl, you could hear them scream in the middle of the night and it would send shivers up your spine and make you hide under the covers.

Mama called us all to her, and we ran and clung to her skirt, looking around to see where the cat was.  Mama told us to hush, so that she could listen. The panther screamed again, and we could tell it was close, too close to the house for us to get there.

Mama said, “Kids, let’s try to get to Uncle David’s”. So off we ran. Uncle David, Mama’s brother, lived just across the holler, and we took out like lightning, trying to stay quiet as we ran.  We knew Uncle David would take care of us.  He wasn’t afraid of anything! He’d kill any animal with his bare hands if he had to.  And he had enormous hands!

So we took off running, with Mama trailing behind.  She dropped her vegetables for the cat, a few at a time, to make the cat stop and smell the food, to buy us time to run.

Well sir, soon she ran out of vegetables to leave behind.  So thinking fast, Mama started tearing little scraps of her apron off and leaving them for the cat, hoping her scent would make the big cat stop.  Sure enough, that ole cat would stop, sniff the scrap, then start running after us again.

Mama kept shouting at us, telling us to hurry up and run faster, and kept tearing scraps of her apron off.

We got to the gate at Uncle David’s house and started screaming for him as we opened the gate and ran into his yard.  Uncle David was on the porch, and stood up as soon as he saw us coming. When he heard we were being chased by a panther, he turned and looked for his gun. It wasn’t on the porch, and he wasn’t of a mind to go looking for it, so he just reached over to the woodpile and grabbed his hatchet and ran toward the gate, just as Mama reached it.

She was exhausted, and was down to her last scrap of cloth from that old apron.  She fell into David’s arms, and told him where the cat was. David told her to grab the kids and go inside, and he would take care of it.  So with nothing but an old hatchet, David ran toward the direction of the big cat.

Later he came back, his hatchet all bloodied, and his arms all scratched up and bleeding. But he got the panther. And he praised Mama for her quick thinking.

If my Mama hadn’t started tearing those scraps of cloth from her apron, that old cat would have caught her for sure, and then would have come after us.”

And that is The Panther Story, as I imagine she would have told it. It’s a true story, and David Lee, Eliza’s uncle, really did kill the panther with just a hatchet.  Jack said according to Eliza, David Lee was a mountain of a man, and wasn’t scared of anything. And Eliza’s mother, Nancy Ann (Marler) Lee, really did delay the panther with strips torn off her apron, and the apron really was almost gone by the time they reached David’s place.

So thanks, dear Eliza Jane (Lee) Ritter, for the stories you told, as I believe the storytelling to be your legacy. And thanks for somehow passing your storytelling along to me, as it is certainly my passion.

Happy Birthday, dear lady. And thank you.

Hello Readers… I Want to Play a Game… My Theories on the Upcoming Saw 8 Movie (From the Archives, published 10/20/13)

Hello friends.  With it being close to Halloween, I thought I’d make a slight departure from my “typical” posts and delve into something spooky, something of which I am a huge fan, the series of Saw movies.

I know many people who have not seen the Saw movies consider them to be a gruesome series and that’s about it.  And while it is true that several of the traps that are in the various Saw movies are quite gruesome (I have to turn away sometimes myself), it is the roller coaster of a subplot to which I am most attracted, as is the case with many fans of the series.  If you have not seen every movie in the series, or perhaps have just watched the first Saw movie and have seen no others, you are missing out on one of the most intricate and fascinating subplots that I have ever experienced. I sooooo want to write that well!

There have been 7 Saw movies, and the last one, The Final Chapter, was indeed supposed to be just that, the final chapter in this great series of movies.  However there was yet another twist in the plot at the end of the movie, and it left quite the cliffhanger, so apparently there is a Saw 8 in the works, and it is supposed to be truly the end of the saga, with the answers to many questions wrapped up in it.

In The Final Chapter, there were two masked accomplices who did not remove their headgear when they caught Detective Hoffman. The identities of these two accomplices has been driving me batty, and I have studied in detail the 7 Saw movies to try to figure out who these two people could be. Without giving away too terribly much information, I’m going to present my theories on who these two people could be.

Here we go:

My first major theory:  Adam is alive, and he is one of these two people.

Reasons: Saw and Saw 3 would lead you to believe that Adam is dead. However, throughout the series, there are photographs of all the people who are targeted for games/traps.  These photos are always just like the ones Adam took of Dr. Gordon prior to their mutual trap experience in the original Saw. So I believe Adam is still alive and is stalking these people and taking their pictures.  Also, in The Final Chapter, we are back in the original bathroom where Dr. Gordon and Adam were held.  The dead body in Adam’s location has a gunshot wound to the chest, not the shoulder where Adam was shot in the first Saw.  Detective Tapp was shot in the chest in the original Saw, and I believe his body has been moved to Adam’s location.  Also, in Saw 3, John states that he had to go and fix Amanda’s screw-ups, and one of them could be Amanda’s attempt to kill Adam to take him out of his misery. So I believe very strongly that Adam is alive and is one of the two accomplices.

Second theory: The lady in Saw 4 who was attached to her abusive husband by steel rods has joined in the activities.

Reasons: She is one who survived and would have appreciated the lesson taught by the trap. So she could have gotten involved.

Third theory: Dr. Gordon’s wife or girlfriend

Reasons: I’m not sure if after everything that happened if Dr. Gordon’s wife would have stayed with him or not. I have my doubts. But it’s possible.  Otherwise, if they split up, then he might have recruited his girlfriend to join in. It’s a bit of a longshot, but worth mentioning.

Fourth theory: Eric Matthews’ son, Daniel

Reasons: It’s an outside chance, but I’m thinking that despite his relatively young age, Daniel might have decided to get involved. I’m not certain of this, as he would have most likely been angry over what happened to his dad, so he might not be willing to get in the middle of it.  But considering how the series has gone, anything is possible! Especially since Detective Hoffman was the target in The Final Chapter.

Fifth theory: One of two officers, Fisk or Lamanna)

Reasons: These two officers showed up quite a bit in the investigations. The frequency with which they show up makes me wonder if they are involved.

Sixth theory: Almost any survivors from Saw 6

Reasons: There were several people who survived traps in Saw 6 that could have been recruited to get involved.  Especially the two girls who survived the carousel trap, or the son of the guy who was denied insurance (he and his mother were in the cage throughout the movie).

So those are my main theories.  I have noticed a few other people in the series that might be good candidates as well, but I do not consider them to be as strong a possibility as these other people mentioned.

From what information I have been able to find on the Internet, Saw 8 may be released some time in 2014. I certainly can’t wait to see it. In the past, when each of the Saw movies was originally released, I did not get to see them in the theater on the big screen, but rather had to rent the DVD to get to see them.  So my intention is to see Saw 8 at the theater, on the big screen, for a movie experience I’ll never forget.

So in closing, if you want to figure out what the heck I am talking about and you have never seen the Saw movies, go rent them, and watch them in order, so that you can discover the subplot I mentioned, and see if you don’t get hooked by all the twists and turns.


Relying Upon the Kindness of Strangers (From the Archives, published 9/18/13)

If you’ve ever read the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire”, you remember the famous line spoken by Blanche Dubois as she was being lead away.  In a total state of delirium, she told the men leading her away, “I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers.”  This past weekend, while participating in a Civil War reenactment, I spent some time thinking about relying upon the kindness of strangers.

Many times since first getting into the hobby of Civil War Reenacting, I have had experiences that were very similar to those encountered by the real Civil War soldiers 150 years ago.  It is the experience of having a kind stranger offer some food or some other comfort.  This happens often at reenactments, especially at times during which the typical spectator might not be around to see such an act.

This past weekend, there was a lady with some kids, and they all were bringing around boxes of bright red delicious apples.  They were indeed delicious, and came at a perfect time, as I had not wanted to eat lunch before the battle, but was in need of some bit of food to drive away the hunger.

In the past, ladies have brought pies into camp to offer to the soldiers.  Sometimes an entire loaf of bread is offered to the camp, or a jar of preserves or jelly is provided.  Even in this time of modern conveniences, when I have a stocked cooler in my tent under the cover of a blanket, such acts of kindness and sustenance, especially when it is homegrown or homemade, warm my heart as I appreciate this person or these people taking the time and effort to come offer us something for our stomachs.

Likewise, there are times when, just like in the days of old, an individual or group of people will stop by each camp and ask if we would like to hear a song.  This too has happened many times over the last 14 years, but an occurrence that sticks out in my mind is when we were in Houston, Missouri.  After the first day of fighting, we were all resting in our camps when three children, the oldest only about 14, stopped and asked if we would like to hear a song.  One boy sat on a chair and played the dulcimer, one boy played fiddle, and the girl, who was the oldest, sang songs to us with an angelic voice that betrayed her years. And while it’s true that if I had wanted to listen to music I could have gone into my tent and listened to the iPod on my phone, there was something special, something very honest and giving, in these three children appearing in our camp and giving of themselves for our enjoyment.  Who needs the convenience of modern music playing in earbuds when you can sit around the fire and listen to someone sign songs to you right there!

Invariably, when such offers of singing take place, we all quietly take up a collection for the musicians, to thank them for their gift.  This too would have taken place in the real war, as such children may have been orphans, and this would have been their means of income.

To top it all off, at that same event, after the children had left, the adjacent regiment had a bagpipe player amongst them, and this gentlemen gave an impromptu bagpipe concert for about 30 minutes.  I believe the entire site grew still to listen.

Such musical contributions lighten the spirit and gladden the soul, and perhaps at times remind one of the songs his mother or grandmother used to sing, or simply make one forget he is far from home, if only for a few days.

I guess all this tends to say something about the human spirit, and the joys of giving, as well as the appreciation of receiving.  We reenactors may have stocked coolers in our tents, but a person offering an apple is an angel.  And we may have only driven 2 or 4 hours away from our homes, but someone coming by and singing to us lifts our spirit and makes home seem not quite so far away.

So I guess it begs the question, what can each of us do, what comfort can we provide, which even in the smallest way can make someone happy, can satiate a need, can lift their spirit?

That person may truly be relying upon the kindness of strangers…

Sitting Here Thinking About How Poetry is Presented (From the Archives, published 9/9/13)

Well, it’s been one of those nights during which I’ve spent a lot of time sitting here thinking…

One of my favorite singers is James Taylor.  He’s been a favorite of mine since I first started paying attention to his stuff in the late 1970s. And I must say, getting to see him live in concert is a real treat.  I saw him the first time he came to my hometown of Springfield, MO, back in the 1990s, and then also got to see him a second time when he was back in Springfield just last year.

He’s spending time telling stories prior to singing some songs, and he not only did that when he was here in 2012, but also in one of his latest projects, the show entitled One Man Band which was broadcast on PBS and also is available on DVD/CD.  One of the things he mentioned, before starting to sing the great romantic song “Something In The Way She Moves” is that sometimes when you write a song, you write it for someone or something in particular, and then you find out years later that you were really writing it for someone or something else.  In this case, he wrote that song for a lady he loved a long time ago, then found out years later it was really for the lady to whom he is now married.

I find I can say the same thing about one of the poems I wrote back in college, a poem that appears in my book Soul Sketches.  The poem is called “I Quit”, and it is a fictional account of what a man feels when he comes home and discovers his roommate has committed suicide. It is one of the poems that I refer to as a “frantic poem”, because it was written with the intent of portraying someone who is frantic, pacing about the room as he rattles on this endless stream of thoughts as he copes with his friend’s suicide. It has very little punctuation, and that’s intentional to portray the frantic emotion.

After the suicide of my friend James Shipman last month, I have to say that “I Quit” has completely changed for me. While I was not his roommate, we were good friends and I loved and respected him dearly, and his suicide was like a brick hitting my head and heart. The poem has now become about him, and there’s nothing fictional about how it feels. I’ve only read “I Quit” to a group one other time previously, but now it has completely changed in me. My approach to it will be different from now on. I plan to include it in my readings at the reading and booksigning I am doing next month, and I just hope I can get through it.  But I must read it, and it must now be for him.