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Hhis prison was small, smelly and very dark. He hated it and, at the top of his voice, he begged someone to come and let him out. He shouted and yelled all day but no-one heard him. He howled and cried all night but no-one heeded.

The next day it rained, at first, he licked thirstily at the water oozing under the door, but the puddle rapidly spread until it covered the floor. His frantic efforts to escape churned it into a thick, soupy mud, which filled his eyes and ears and plastered itself all over his starving body. He dug at the floor under the door-sill, biting at the wood in desperation, and the thick mess filled his mouth and made him choke and retch.
His pleas that night were hoarse and despairing as the cold night filled the sky outside, he gave up. Sprawled in the mud, he pressed his face against the door and closed his clouded eyes. The weary day wore on, and the breath lifting his little chest became ever more faint. An occasional shudder shook him. Remorselessly, quietly death drew near.

The old tramp paced angrily on the counter of the police station. “I tell you, there is someone in there,” he insisted. “I heard them the night before last, it made my blood run cold.” The policeman leaned towards him, suddenly realised why the old tramp was called Mucky Mick and hastily stepped back. “I tell you I personally checked the place after we ejected those squatters last week. There’s no one there!”

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Fairies flying through the air with starlight on their wings,
are planting all the mushrooms carefully in rings.
While elves sit sentry-duty to guard the special place,
and spiders weave their magic spell to cover all in lace.

Sleep on then little child so sweet, and dream of this til morn.
Then you will see where last they were, by the circles on the lawn.

Dream by Wendy R. Chapman.

She can be contacted at: thetalewagger@hotmail.com

Copyright reserved. No part(s) of these publications may be reproduced, transmitted, transcribed, stored in a retrieval system, or translated into any language in any form by any means without the written permission of the author.

Ii pulled the old, knotted, pine door and peeped inside, squinting my eyes to see through the floating dust and clutter of the villa’s main entrance. Tiny rays of dawn filtered through the lacy Victorian curtains, throwing giant shadows of figurines and statues, on the gilded ornate wallpaper.

The old and rundown appearance of my childhood summer getaway piqued my curiosity and guided me into the main reception area, where I remembered playing as a child. The large hall widened, at the far end, into what appeared to be the dining area. White throw-cloths, carefully placed by the last owners, covered what was left of the more elaborate carved, oak furniture.

Adorning the old, decorative ceiling, hung the multi-chrystal chandelier, still hinting at the glamour and tasteful elegance, probably enjoyed by many of the well-to-do elite, living along the Camden/Rockport coast of Maine. Through the large, bay-window, I watched the waves break powerfully against the irregularly-placed jetty stones, displaying the proud and dominant North Atlantic, in all its white foamed fury. It was high tide.

Glancing back at the large dining-table, fully capable of seating at least 30 “politically correct” guests, I imagined what a magnificent view diners must have enjoyed, while feasting on lobsters and other seafood delicacies. Surely they were not adorned with the traditional tourist ‘lobster bibs’, I thought, unable to refrain from the image but, then again, perhaps they were. It was a thought I quite enjoyed having.

The house stood silent and hidden, atop the coastal ledges and rocks of Belfast, Maine. Although unpopular with the locals, the granite house was built in 1831 by the famous seafaring Captain Gordon Albright for his wife, Sarah, who undoubtedly, like many women of her day, watched the horizon from the widow’s peak for her lover’s return.

Contained in the historic records are documents written by the Captain himself, describing the pain and torment of his return to Belfast, only to discover his family dead, victims of an outbreak of cholera among the coastal settlers.

Stricken with grief and despair over the loss of his beloved Sarah, the proud Captain Albright hung himself from the old barn’s rafters, and was buried by the ship’s company, in the small family cemetery near his wife and their two young boys.

Continuing on my journey, I found myself mindlessly climbing, step-by-step, up the narrow passage to the widow’s peak, overlooking the ocean. What a magnificent view of the majesty and partnership of water and land! The old, caned, high-back rocking chair still stood by the window, suggesting the wait might have been long and enduring.

The view across the blue-green ocean crests quieted my spirit for a moment, as I reflected upon the significance of the room, and the dedicated love brought to it by Sarah Albright. Qualities such as patience and loyalty came to mind, as I saw her in my deepest imagination, sitting quietly, her shawl pulled tightly around her delicate shoulders.

Only a tiny flame of a whale-oil light to offer her husband, as a guide to a place of safety and home. In good while, the long awaited Captain Albright, searching the rocky coast with his binoculars, eventually found the tiny flickering light, in which he recognized the quiet beauty of his wife’s face, and turned his ship’s bow toward it.

As the evening sky turned red with cool sunset hues, and the ocean settled calmly for the night, I seated myself comfortably into the high-back rocker and lit the old kerosene light, still filled with oil: cedar, I think. The breaking waves grew peaceful now, gently rolling into shore, unaware of my guardian vigil.

I placed my hands on the steel barrel of the pistol sitting idle on my lap, and reassuringly felt the coldness of the metal beneath my fingers. Closing my eyes, I thought about 1968, and, as the whirling sounds of helicopters grew louder and louder.

I drifted further and further away, to memories of an unfamiliar land of war and death. Vietnam smells like no other country in the world! Odors of frying fish and rice, spices, and cow manure quickly reminded me that I was no longer in my safe home in Maine.

I was in a world very different from my own. It occurred to me, at the time, that people back in the world would probably describe Vietnam as beautiful, but I never thought so.

Tall green, wheat-like grasses bordered Tan Son Nhut airfield, first blowing forward in the humid air, then backward again, giving the illusion of subtle wave-like movement. Vietnamese workers, in the field, barely looked in our direction.

It was a day like any other for them, I supposed, but for me, it wasn’t the same at all. I was an Army nurse, sent to Vietnam in wartime and that made it significantly different. After landing, one of the young airmen kicked my duffel bag off the chopper, sending it flying just short of my feet.

“Hey, thanks, buddy!” I shouted upward, to no one in particular, engulfed for a moment by a whirlwind of dust, stirred up as the chopper took off again. I had not been in Vietnam for one hour and I hated it already!

“Are you Lieutenant Pennet?” A young private called from behind me, startling me for a moment with a quick, but lazy salute. I returned the gesture and nodded.
“This way Mam.”

Although my orders originally assigned me to Saigon, the driver informed me that I had been reassigned to a medical triage unit in Da Nang, and handed me my new orders in a large manila envelope. There was no need to open it.

What I really wanted, and needed, was rest, but the unexpected ride to Da Nang kept me alert, whether my body wanted to or not. The miles clicked away as one muddy rice-paddy after another passed, and still, not one human being, or beast of burden for that matter, turned in our direction.

For a moment, I imagined I was looking at a picture, painted in oils of greens and bronze, a still-life on a canvas, casting surreal images to any passer-by. Elf-like figures wearing concave, grass hats appeared statuesque. They were pasted into the scenery, not real-not human.

You’re being silly, I reminded myself, but around each bend in the road, the painted picture of my new world always seemed the same. As the jeep, and my restless ride, came abruptly to an unexpected halt, I realized just how here-and-now my future really was.

Whirling sounds of aircraft thundered over me, making it difficult to discern any reliable source of activity. A male voice shouted from somewhere: “Get that soldier over here!” Another voice simply said: “This one’s dead, bag ’em!”

Shadows of Corpsmen pushed cots and stretchers into unseen places, creating the uncanny impression of organized chaos. As the sand finally settled, I was able to make out the sign nearest me. Painted in large red letters it read: “VD Hut.”

“Good Lord,” I mumbled, quickly dismounting the vehicle with my gear.
“Can you tell me where Captain Collins is?” I asked the driver, who had lit himself a Marlboro, from a crumpled pack of cigarettes taken from his pocket.

“That’s him over there, Mam.” He said, pointing to a dark-haired man in a white coat. I looked in his direction, and for a brief moment I found myself unable to move my feet. It was then I saw, and smelled the blood.

As a medically-trained nurse, and a professional, I was used to the sight of blood. It’s just, that there was so much of it. Soldiers laying on cots were not only covered with deep purple red bandages, but pools of oozing liquid.

From missing appendages, it dripped to the dirt floor and formed puddles, eventually tracked here and there by the throngs of medical corpsmen, and nurses, running about. The tent smelled like death!

White lab-coats, streaked with red, walked everywhere; like robots, unaware of the amount of death they carried upon them.
“Get a grip, Maggie,” I reassured myself, “you’ve seen this before, remember?” Secretly though, I knew it was lie. I really hadn’t seen this before, not even in surgery.

“Are you Margaret Pennet?” A soft voice asked amid the shouts, bringing my attention back to the moment.
“Yes, Sir.” I replied, somewhat embarrassed. “Uh, Maggie actually, Captain. I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.”

“Welcome aboard, Lieutenant.You’re not afraid of blood are you?” he remarked, casually scratching his nose with a red-streaked index finger.
“No, Sir” I whispered, but, looking around the tent, I was afraid, I really was!

My days as an Army nurse were indistinguishable, with on-duty shifts extending eighteen to twenty hours at times, allowing only brief periods for naps, coffee, and bad food. In between, the choppers of wounded kept coming, an endless supply of manpower and job security.

While I grew accustomed to Da Nang’s version of medical triage, and the constant activity of bandages, IV bottles and tourniquets, the war in Viet Nam raged. There was never any time to make friends, or foster relationships.

However, my most precious moments were rare snatches of time reading letters, from my grandfather, in Maine. It was the only connection that I had with all that remained human, loving, and mine.

Four and a half months of duty passed so slowly, it seemed as though my sense of time moved in slow-motion. Vietnamese villagers, civilians employed by the Army, often visited the compound with their families.

They showed-off their children to those of us who carried handy supplies of Hershey bars and hard, candy treats. In the beginning, it was in the faces of these children that I found some beauty in Viet Nam.

Tiny creatures, with black hair and puffy cheeks, squealed with delight, and giggled while tied tightly in the papoose swaddling of cloth, used to carry them on their mother’s backs, or chests.

For a while, in a world filled with blood and death, my life became a bit more tolerable, and the children remained my only power of keeping my sanity and dignity. Perhaps it was my own fault, for being so naïve and overwhelmingly optimistic with this new life.

In the end, when tragedy came my way, I could not contain my grief, or the sense of inhumanity which causes one of us to take the life of another, especially a child.

It was 1969 now, and the spring monsoon season poured torrential rains, with pounding intensity for several months. The compound, once cracked and dry, became a muddy mess, with tiny ravines of water flowing in unimportant directions.

By 4 o’clock the medical staff had finished at least three incoming choppers of wounded, and equipped a hospital evac team to Saigon. Exhausted and hungry, I untied my green surgical mask and walked outside the tent, face upward, hoping the rains would revive me enough to enjoy a good, hot dinner.

Not surprisingly, the cool rain felt good on my face. Whatever my shame and guilt was for this dirty war, it could never be washed clean by the rain.The forgiveness would have to come from a much higher source, than the monsoon rain clouds bursting overhead.

Sudddenly, through the downpour, I noticed an old mamasan from the village, pushing her way through the tree line, and lines of wounded, carrying a squalling infant in her arms. I knew her. She was Sergeant Casey’s yobo, a woman he was taking care of and sleeping with until it was time for him to return to his wife and family, in the States.

Setting up housekeeping with a local mamasan was the thing to do, in Viet Nam. No one back home had to know, and no one blew the whistle. Looking back, it gave “Don’t ask, don’t tell” a whole new meaning to the military.
“Gee-I, you take –.you take,” she insisted, aggressively, reaching up quickly, pushing the child toward me. I instinctively took the baby in my arms, without thinking.

I had done it a hundred times before, and it was the sort of thing that happened everyday with the villagers, who handed their children to American soldiers, hoping for their favors of C-rations and other treats. This time however, within a second, the old woman turned and ran back into the trees, leaving the child, still crying and kicking, in my arms.

“Hey mamasan,” I called after her, following behind, “you forgot your kid!” I didn’t need this, I really didn’t.

From across the compound, perhaps a hundred yards away, someone yelled in my direction. Turning, I recognized Captain Collins, and several other Army officers, trying to get my attention by motioning in military fashion that I was to stand to, and not move. I understood the order.

“Maggie, listen to me now,” Captain Collins directed through the rain, holding his hands up showing caution. “Ya’ alright?”
“Yea, what’s wrong?” I didn’t understand.
“Do you see that sand pit over to your right? Look now. Do you see it?

I nodded.
“Throw the baby over there. Maggie listen to me! Do it now!”
“Yes, Sir, but—,” I didn’t understand. It was crazy, lunatic: not Christian. How could I kill a child? I froze, undecided.

“Maggie!” Captain Collins called again, his voice demanding; this time, more immediate.
“Throw that kid, Lieutenant! Do it! NOW! That’s an order!”

I heard nothing, neither the pounding of the rain, nor my heartbeat, or the screams of the baby in my arms. I looked at the tiny, round face with black eyes and without really understanding why, threw the infant as far to my right as I could, in the direction of the sandpit.

Within moments, I was thrown into a muddy trench, as a triggered bomb exploded, sending body-parts, of a tiny, innocent Vietnamese baby, all over the compound.

Captain Collins simply said: “The old mamasans tape bombs to the inside of the kid’s legs because they know that when they wake up and move, they’ll blow you and the whole compound clear to Jesus. One less gook to worry about, anyway!

Want a beer, kid?” I heard him mumble under his breath, as he walked away from me, still stunned and curled in the mud: “Stupid broad.”

“Hard ass, ain’t he?” One of the other officers remarked, as he helped me to my feet. Another corpsman just walked off, into the downpour, shaking his head: “Don’t mean nothin’, just don’t mean a damn thing.”

After a few moments, I walked toward the huts, monsoon rains still pouring down, this time mixed with the smell of sulfur, smoke and blood, rippling in the water pools.

For almost two hours I searched the compound for the delicate body parts of the exploded infant, as my sense of human decency directed me to do the right thing. It’s funny what goes through one’s mind at a time like this. I remember kneeling on the ground, thinking if I should dig one large hole, or several, to bury this child.

In the end, I dug only one large burial plot, with my hands, and carefully placed the severed baby-parts, some still missing into their final resting-place, and marked the grave, with a piece of bamboo laying nearby. Then, I did something I had not done since I was a child. I covered my face with my hands in shame, and cried for a very long time.

I think I knew, at that moment, I would never love, or laugh again, or enjoy a cool breeze or sunset at the ocean villa. I would never have a baby of my own, or fall in love, not even have a husband.

For weeks, I remained, sullen on my bunk, not eating, or caring, not working, until the CO finally gave in, and cut orders sending me home with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I didn’t care: I wasn’t a person anymore.

As the motors of the airplane grew louder and carried me home across the Pacific, thirty years to the present, I kept reliving a dream-like scene over and over in my mind, it’s message subtle, deepening, engraving, its mark on my heart.

In my mind, I saw the small procession of mourners, as they followed a small child’s casket, covered with an American flag, bathed with multi-colored flowers from the countryside of Vietnam. It sat on top of a small flatbed with wooden wheels, drawn by the yoked oxen from the field.

I was there too, observing, unrecognized, a stranger among the people. From somewhere in the distance, a bell rang out, a salute, a walking tempo for the procession, which stopped to listen to the harmonic eulogy.

Suddenly, appearing from the crowd, a young woman, clothed in black, her face covered with a transparent veil, asked to no one in particular: “For Whom Does this Bell Ring?” and, without warning, a faceless figure touches me on my shoulder, ever so lightly, and replies: “It tolls for thee, Maggie it tolls for thee.”

Morning colors of sunrise appeared on the horizon, heralding a new day of light blues, crimson reds and faded pinks. While tiny stars still adorned their beauty, high tide threw waves of blue and white crashing to shore, breaking the silence of the earlier calm and serenity of the coast.

The old kerosene light flickered to and fro on the windows of the widow’s peak, bringing me to reality, having dreamt of my days in Vietnam. I had been happiest as a child, here, in this old villa, filled with history and interesting things.

Although my grandfather died while I was in Nam, the happiness he gave me, with fishing memories from this coastal refuge, lured me to end my life, as it had it’s root in the beginning. It is indeed fitting that I should return to the place where some glimpse of happiness had not deserted me.

Over the years the memories of my tour in Viet Nam did not dim with age, but remained an immortal sin, unforgiving and eternal. As the years passed, my homecoming to a despising nation only reinforced my beliefs about myself, for I despised me too.

Of course, they were right to call me a ‘baby killer,’ even in their ignornace of how significant that specific title was for me. They didn’t know how right they were. It was time to stop the pain and accept my penance, if there was to be any salvation at all.

Raising the pistol, I quickly removed the safety lock and carefully pointed the barrel toward my temple. The cool steel against my head seemed reassuring, and I felt a little surprised that this was going to be easier than I thought it would be. But for the mirror of my deed, I might have pulled the trigger and ended my pain.

Then, from the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of my desperate reflection in the window, and felt compelled to turn. It was then that the crumpled pieces of parchment caught my attention, only slightly visible, unobtrusively tucked between the old faded barn-boards of the walls. I heard a small and gentle voice within me say “Wait! Wait!.”

Oddly drawn to the ill-placed and carefully hidden parchments, I placed the gun on the wicker table near the lamp, and carefully pulled the wooden planks away from the wall, retrieving the stained and yellowed letters. One in particular caught my attention, and raising the light slightly, I began to read the last letter of Captain Gordon Albright to his wife, Sarah. It read:

” My beloved wife,
News has reached me that you have been taken gravely ill and are in great need of my help. Upon receiving this news, I have given instructions that we should sail, and having good winds, you should see me on the horizon in a few weeks.

My dear and loving, Sarah, I regret the circumstances which have kept us apart, these last few months, and long to see your gentle face. Whatever illness has overtaken you, take great care, and resolve to live for my sake, for God does not require death of thee.

Thou art my stonghold and my life, my dear Sarah. Be of strong spirits, and fear not, kind spirit, for know always that my love and thoughts are with thee. Hear me, dear one, that our time apart has not been in vain, for I have seen many wondrous miracles in distant lands – the ungodly deeds of men who fear not the

Almighty hand of the Living God. But, in you, I have found the forgiving grace of God, and shall haste my return to your side, and that of my children. Be brave, beloved, and look for my sails in the horizon. May God be with you, and watch over thee until my return.

I remain your dearest husband,


I sat quietly for a moment, hands holding the aged parchment, pondering the words of Sarah’s husband, and the gentle and loving reassurance that he gave to his dying wife.
As the soft light of morning appeared across the waves, and cast shadows of morning on the glass, I saw a figure of a small woman. Shawl pulled tightly about her frail shoulders, blushed by fever, she was standing infront of the widow’s walk windows, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband’s returning sails.

I watched, still bound, as she stood there, silently for a moment, her back toward me, contemplating, then she turned to me and smiling, pointed toward the horizon. I looked in the direction of the apparition’s outstretched arm, and from the far distance, the white sails of a ship came into view, a clipper, just ever so slightly visible, across the waters.

A longing smile lingered on the figure’s face as she turned to me, and, placing her long and slender hand on my shoulder, I heard her say the words: “God’s forgiving grace does not require death of thee, for your time apart has not been in vain.”

She turned once more toward the ship, this time a single teardrop appeared on her cheek, as she pointed, one last time, to the advancing sails growing larger now across the horizon. Sarah wanted to live, and for the first time since my return from Nam, nearly thirty years ago, I realized that I, too, wanted to live.

It was then that the figure of the dying Sarah left me, never again to embrace the loving arms of her husband. I sat quietly for awhile; holding Gordon’s letter in my hand, shaking a little, as I fully accepted the feeling of peace which filled my spirit.

Sarah’s words of: “God’s forgiving grace”, kept passing through my mind, as a final acceptance materialized. As a Registered Nurse in Vietnam, I did what I had to do, and for that deed, God did not require my death, but offered me a never-ending hope that there is, afterwall, some goodness in us all.

As I watched the sails of the ship turn toward Rockport, a new day, full of hope, filled my soul. Picking up the gun, I passed through the main dining-hall, as I had done the morning before, through the spider-webs, and dusty hall. I had not thought of my leaving the villa, but my steps, out of the entranceway, felt lighter and full of joy.

I placed the pistol in the middle of the large dining table, and carefully covered it with Gordon Albright’s letter to his wife. “Thank you, Sarah,” I whispered to the old room, with its memories of life and near tragedy. “You gave me my life, and I will never forget you.”

Turning, I once again saw the familiar figure of Sarah Albright, standing tall and proud near the large picture window. This time, with grace of dignity and acceptance, she smiled, nodded quickly to the door, and disappeared into the morning light.

I walked to the old pine door and pulled it open, I was filled with a wondrous new understanding of my past, and what my life could mean for the future, having left my guilt behind. I had never forgiven myself for being human, for feeling the pain, which all of us have inside when life is taken without purpose, and without meaning.

Sarah, in her pain and longing, made me realize that it is in tragedy that we continue to hope, and find the will to go on. Bravely stepping across the threshold of the villa and into the sunlight, I felt the warm and cleansing rays of joy once again on my face.

Then, closing the door to my past, and finally to my time apart from myself, I took the first steps into God’s forgiving grace.

The End

A World Apart by Linda Nee


The Author can be contacted at: herbalcom@cyberwc.net

Copyright reserved. No part(s) of these publications may be reproduced, transmitted, transcribed, stored in a retrieval system, or translated into any language in any form by any means without the written permission of the author.

Tthere comes a time in every Mainer’s life when he or she has to face the realization that the cool breezes of autumn will soon become the numbing winds of winter. With this realization comes the time when it is necessary to get one’s world ready for that dreaded season.

This usually happens about the sixth week of the New England Patriot’s season. My lawn no longer has to be mowed and most of the outside plants have died.

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Mmy wife tells me most every day the biggest problem I have in my quest to survive myself, is I rarely pay attention. I know she is right because every time I lose track of the reality around me I get myself into trouble.

Now I am not saying I am stupid. I teach chemistry and have worked with DNA bioinformatics. But, asking me who called on the phone ten minutes after the call was made is difficult. This lack of understanding some phone calls could be important drives my wife nuts. When she gets home she asks if anyone called. I usually say no only to figure out later her sister called to tell about some important arrangements about a holiday get-together I forgot was about to happen.

I don’t blame my wife for getting mad at me but I explain to her this is the way my mind is wired. Of course, she then reminds me about the concept of short circuits but by this time I find it better to hide. Forgetting phone calls is not the only thing I forget. I have a difficult time remembering names. This is very disconcerting to the person I am talking too especially if he or she thought they were good friends. I even forget my relative’s names. My wife saves me because every time there is a family get-together or party I stand near her when we enter and reviews who is there and what their names are.

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Mmy beauty is ageless, though lines scar my face,
I radiate and shimmer with green patterns of lace.
My arms, although gnarled, give me no pain.
I blossom at Springtime, with finery grand,
an arrangement in keeping with nature as planned.

Wwhen days turn to cold and frost chills my limbs,
my greatest performance of all then begins.
And people are spellbound gaze with much awe,
my beauty, my grace, my curtsy, my fall.

Nno debutante fair could ‘present’ with such glee,
in  my Autumn of Life, a mere single old tree!

The old Trouper by Wendy R. Chapman.
All copyights reserved.

Tthere I stood looking up at a white mountain of snow that seemed to reach the sky. The snow was packed tight with pale blue facets in the crevices and the wind whipped a fine spray from the summit like Everest.

I was absolutely awestruck by its size and beauty and I wished like hell it wasn’t in the middle of my driveway!

The day after our first major snowstorm began with me trying to open my garage door. It took about half an hour, in sub zero temperatures, of me chipping away at the ice between the bottom of the door and the pavement that had sealed it shut like cement. When the door finally opened to reveal the spectacular winter vista before me my first thought was how beautiful it all was. It was like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy’s world turns from black and white to color – except in reverse.

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Tthe summer is now in its last weeks. My garden is exploding out of its confines. Normally this would be a big problem because the concept of throwing food out or letting it rot on the vine is not something any Italian can live with. I am fortunate enough to be married to a beautiful and talented wife.

As to how I managed to end up with here is beyond my comprehension but I am forever grateful for the miracles she can perform with fresh garden produce in the kitchen. For the past couple of months I have been enjoying some of the most remarkable meals ever produced by my garden. One of my favorites is called, ‘chombought.’

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Iiknew every one of those people. I didn’t know their faces or their names but I knew them all. They were husbands and wives working hard to make their families comfortable. They were children whose hard work and perseverance made their parents.

They were also grandparents who were just about ready to enter a new stage of their lives doing something they had worked hard all their lives to be able to do. I still know them. I actually hated Paul Mann, the publisher of the Independent, when he called and asked me to revisit that day. I hated the concept of having to write about a time in my life when my soul was forced to change. Psychologists say many of us have changed because of that day. How the hell couldn’t you be?

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“I wonder what dirt tastes like?”
That was how I opened my first conversation with a cousin in my parent’s backyard over 50 years ago. My cousin and I had never said much to each other before that because we’d always been in the company of grown-ups but they had put us out in the backyard to play while they tried to have some kid-free time inside.

My cousin stared back at me blankly. Then he smiled, picked up a handful of dirt and shoved it in his mouth. From the instant look of horror on his face, the spitting and retching and the explosion of tears I realized that dirt was probably not something one should eat. The grown-ups all spilled out of the house to see what the problem was and I told them we were just talking.

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