Short-Short Saturday: A Good Old-Fashioned Friendship

Mark Twain and John T. Lewis in 1903.  (Source: Library of Congress)

Mark Twain and John T. Lewis in 1903.        (Source: Library of Congress)

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned a black farmer named John Lewis who played an important role in helping to return an altar Bible taken as a battlefield souvenir during the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam.

The tale of do-gooder John Lewis gets more interesting.  Here’s the short-short of it (available in more detail at various places on the world wide web):

John T. Lewis was a freeman living in the slave holding society of 1850s Maryland.  In 1860, with the civil war approaching, Lewis left the Old Line State (that’s Maryland, My Maryland) for Pennsylvania before pressing on to Elmira, New York, in 1864 to work as a coachman and farmer.

One evening in 1877, John Lewis was driving his two-horse wagon home when he rescued a runaway carriage bearing Ida Langdon, her daughter Julia, and a nursemaid.  Who was Ida Langdon?  The sister-in-law of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain.

Later, Twain frequently referred to Lewis as an honest friend worthy of respect.  Their friendship spanned some thirty years, and it is speculated that Lewis was the inspiration of Twain’s character “Jim,” a runaway black slave in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Short-Short Saturday: ‘Tis the Season

On Saturdays, I normally post a short-short story (flash nonfiction, if you will) that often involves some sort of ridiculousness that is my life. This week, I could well tell the tale of how I super-glued my camera to the inside of my handbag. But I won’t. (Actually, I just kind of did tell you.) Suffice it to say that I pried it loose … only I can’t use the gadget because the controls are fused shut. Sigh.

Who has time to develop a short-short story anyway when the Christmas season is upon us?! I don’t officially flip the switch on my lights – inside or out – until December 1st, (I have my quirks), but I am in preparation mode. I love Christmastime! I plan to have three trees this year – no more, no less. Two down and one to go!

Here’s a short-short peek at them – lit only for decorating and photographing purposes.  (I am fortunate enough to have more than one camera, lest you think my stories don’t add up.  As for Super Glue and me, we are on a break.)

My 7-foot tree has mostly glass and glittery gold ornaments on it. I usually break at least one or two ornaments during the decorating process. I was so psyched (do people say that anymore?) that I didn’t break a single one this year!

This tree is an eclectic mix of ornaments that I either made as a child or received as gifts over the years. … A nativity ornament I made in Sunday School … A blue satin bulb with my name in silver glitter – a gift from the Boonsboro Elementary School PTA back in 1979 … A popsicle-stick sled Dad made me in 1981 … White House ornaments from a high school friend. And in place of garland, peacock feathers given to me years ago by a fella who ran a cigarette maker by night and worked his farm (complete with peacocks) by day. It’s a tree of good memories.  It’s a season of great joy – Jesus the Savior was born!

Short Short Saturday: Pressing Matters & Perspective

I was up at COD (crack of dawn) this morning for a quick trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit family. It’s about a two-hour jaunt on I-85 Southbound, and my homemade hazelnut latte kicked in about an hour down the road. There are two problems with this: First, I’m a germaphobe of the highest order. (Public restrooms give me the willies – trees and shrubs are more attractive alternatives in my book.) Secondly, I haven’t looked at Interstate rest areas the same way since reading Patricia Cornwell’s All That Remains, (about a serial killer and rest stops along I-64), back in the early 1990’s.

Despite my issues, pressing matters and sparse terrain compelled me to stop at the Davidson County Rest Area near Thomasville, NC. I said a quick prayer before stepping out of my vehicle. A Crown Vic with South Carolina plates was parked on my left, a rotund man asleep behind the wheel with his mouth sagging open. … At least I’m pretty sure he was just sleeping.

The rest stop had a park-like appeal and consisted of two buildings, (one for vending and the other for restrooms and information). To my relief, (pun intended), the doors opened automatically – no touching required! My nose was greeted with … the smell of lemony freshness!

I will refrain from any further graphic recollection, but suffice it to say that I give the facilities four stars – although I still rolled up my trousers to my kneecaps before entering and walked on tiptoes so that the least amount of shoe surface touched the tiled floor. (Yes, I get looks with these rituals, but I’ve reached that age where I care more about thwarting a flesh-eating disease than I do about what people think of me.)

Despite the better than expected experience, I took care of business quickly and scurried to my car. As I was exiting the rest stop, I came upon a lovely Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Note shift to serious, reverent tone.)

The memorial was built with private donations and consists of a wall made of bricks manufactured in North Carolina. The memorial contains the names of over 1620 North Carolinians killed or missing in Vietnam. [1]

As I pulled back onto I-85, I was reminded that although a clean restroom is delightful, there are far, far, far more serious issues in life to consider thoughtfully and thankfully.


Short-Short Saturday: As the Hotdogger Turns

“I’m hungry.  Can I borrow twinny-five cents for a Little Debbie?” I asked Sandy as I watched her fill a bucket with soap and water.

Sandy picked the bucket up, the muscles in her lean arms pulsing from the effort.  “It’s twenty-five.  Twen-ty-five,” she emphasized patiently.  “Now you say it,” she prompted.

“TWENty-five.  Can I borrow twenty-five cents, please?” I asked again.

She set the bucket down, dug into her faded jeans pocket and produced a quarter.  “You really need to eat better,” she lectured lightly as she handed me the coin.

“Thanks, Sandy!” I grinned, plucked a Peanut Butter Bar from the shelf and deposited the quarter inside the cash register.

My shift over, I munched on the crispy treat as I watched Sandy begin to wash down cabinets in the back of the store.  Her strawberry blond plaits danced as she worked the rag in circular motions over the white cupboard doors.

It was the late 1980s, but Sandy was holding onto the 70s with all she had.  By the looks of it, she was in her forties – which seemed old in comparison to my seventeen years.  Divorced with a degree in Forestry and a second job there at the convenience store off Interstate 70 to make ends meet, she was quirky and carefree yet she demanded excellence of herself and encouraged it in others.

“Did the boss tell you to do that?” I asked, noticing that she’d worked up a healthy sweat from her labor.

“No, I just saw that it needed to be done so I’m doing it,” she replied matter-of-factly.

I thought about that for awhile.  I realized there was a sort of freedom and independence in discovering what needed to be done before being ordered by someone else to do it.

I only worked at the store on weekends, but I resolved to be a good worker like Sandy for those sixteen hours.  The following Saturday afternoon, I noticed that the hot dog machine had developed a build-up of crusted on juices from days of turning weenies to plump perfection.  I grabbed a bucket, filled it with sudsy water and donned a pair of yellow rubber gloves.  I scrubbed the hotdogger until it gleamed, then I placed hot dogs and sausages on the turner and stepped back to survey my handiwork.

“Beautiful!” my supervisor praised.  She hesitated as she noticed my hands, still clad in yellow rubber gloves.  “Where did you get those?” she inquired.

“In the back room on the shelf,” I pointed.

She looked dismayed.  “Harold uses those gloves when he cleans the toilets!”