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July 20, 2016


As a result of the torpedo from German submarine U-486, 14 officers and 759 enlisted American soldiers lost their lives aboard the T.S.S. Leopoldville, Christmas Eve, 1944.  Much is known about the T.S.S. Leopoldville.  It was built in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the 1920s to be a luxury passenger liner.  For 12 years a Belgian company took a couple hundred passengers at a time from Europe to Africa in wealthy splendor.

6849801_origWorld War II changed all of that.  The Allies requisitioned the Leo, fitted it to carry more than 2000 troops, then had it shuttle men from the States to Europe and from England to France.  In all that time the Leo remained unscathed until Christmas Eve, although the heavy use made it look like hell.  The men of the 66th Infantry Division made the following remarks as they boarded the doomed ship:

* “I’ve caught bass in better boats than that.”

* “It’ll never get us to where we’re going.”  [Someone:  “But where are we going?”]  Chorus:  “To the bottom.”

* “Hell, I’d rather swim across the channel.”

One recommended activity for would-be writers like me, is to write for a certain amount each day.  I’m going to try to write for two hours or when my wife comes home, whatever happens first.

What to write about?  Turns out that the story is only part of the tale.  There are always parts left out, there are always surroundings and that is part of the story too.

I’m sitting in the living room of our small house writing.  Fans are keeping me cool by blowing air on my sweating body.  Well, it’s about a hundred degrees today.  My dog Gunther is in the backyard.  I put him out there for about 30 minutes at a time in case he has to pee.  I don’t think he’ll pee in the house, the way he did when he was a puppy, new to us.

Gunther has water.  Hey!  We have a new gate.  Almost new.  The problem was after we got back from camping with Todd, Susanna and Cyrus and Roland the gate to our dog-proof fence wouldn’t close all the way.  Oh, I could get it closed, but I had to lift the end with quite a bit of strength.

I used a wrench and a hammer and assorted prying tools to force and bend the gate so that it would close better, but I had only slight success.  Penny didn’t like it, so yesterday I called the company that installed the fence.  A pair of fine young men showed up with grinders and drills and modified the latch.  P. didn’t think that repair was suitable, so I asked the company man to try again.  Now the latch works flawlessly.  What a joy!

It’s hard to keep my fingers moving on the keyboard, but I think I can get into some sort of a groove here.  I used to get in a groove making music, and the art of writing is something like.

Some people I know said that there are things that cannot be expressed in words, but I subscribe to an opinion expressed by Peter Koch more than 40 years ago.  He said, “Of course you can say it.  If it’s there you can say it.”

I believe that is true.  In the I Ching the text mentions the thoughts of ancient ones who wanted to find expression through the use of images.  Well, words can certainly bring forth images.  For example:

I’m looking at my wife’s reading chair, a wooden frame easy chair with two flowery cushions that look like water lilies or Bitterroots.  The chair sits at a raked angle for easy sitting, next to the round table from my youth.  The chair, by the way, had originally been painted white on its wooden parts, and had some sort of a web surface below the seat cushion.  I replaced the webbing with a piece of plywood that still sits there.  I can’t remember where I got the plywood, but I think it has some sort of printing or words painted.  I’ll go take a look later, when P. returns from work.

Trouble with describing chairs, is, it can be boring.  But chairs are exciting to some people, like me.  Did I just hear a car door slam?  I’ll bet Penny’s two-clock home visit canceled.  It’s like five minutes after two, so I can almost hear her stepping into the back room.  If I had a chance to get visited by Penny, I’d take it.  She is respectful and gives her entire attention to young mothers and their children.  She measures and observes the children, then clucks approvingly.  She also finds opportunities to help out a young mom if she needs to go to a doctor appointment, or the like.

I like summer.  As one who is nearly retired, I have a fair number of days off, including this one.  Well not quite the day off.  Because we volunteer for the homeless shelter program at church, P. and I will have to stay overnight at church from about 8 at night until seven the next morning  I think I’ll do some reading at that time.  I have four different books I’m reading, depending upon what mood I’m in.

The fans keep us cool.  You know, I’ve been writing just ten minutes and I’m starting to get tired.

I’ve been thinking about the story I’m trying to write about my maternal uncle Carl R. Bonde, Jr.  I’ve got little glimpses into his life as a first and second grader, I could try filling in a few gaps when he is say, a fourth grader.

For example, Carl’s mother was a stay-at-home parent, so it didn’t do Carl any good to play hooky if he wanted to stay home in bad weather.  Instead, he would have to be ready for a day spent outdoors in the weather.  Suppose he and his friend did decide to play hooky and things were going great until a snowstorm hit.  They wouldn’t be able to go home without getting into trouble.

On the other hand if they stayed outdoors they’d get really cold and they’d get into trouble that way.  They could try going to a third child’s house, or to the home of an adult with a sympathetic bent.

When I grew up in Kalispell, some 25 years after Carl did, I could generally find some old family friends who would have been apt to let me in out of the cold, even sympathetic enough that I could tell them what the problem was.  I don’t know if any were good enough to avoid spilling the beans.

At this point I’ve been writing 15 minutes.

So my hero, Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr., is playing out in the cold with his friend and they are both home from school “sick” because why?  Probably just to be having some sort of an adventure.  I am guessing that they are each capable of either forging a note explaining they were sick, or just giving a verbal report to their teacher.

Not everyone required a written permission slip in order to stay home, especially in the late 1930s.  Lots of people in those days didn’t get much education beyond the eighth grade.  Of course expectations were high for Carl.  He came from a well-educated family.  Both of his parents had post secondary education.  His mother had graduated teacher’s college and his dad had been to business school.

Let’s say that Carl gets away with playing hooky perfectly.  Gets into school the next day, just as if nothing had happened.  I’m guessing the teachers and other students will ask, at some point, why he was absent, and that would require Carl to lie and say he was ill.  He could be more creative and say that his sister was near death.  In fact, in 1918 one of his sisters did die of scarlet fever.  People did die young in those days.

What if Carl had told a different huge whopper of a lie?  He could have claimed that his father was in a car accident and had been pinned down when the car rolled onto its roof.  He could have claimed that his house had burned to the ground.  Any of those lies would suffice.

Any of those scenarios would make Carl seem like a real human being, albeit someone I’ve never met.  I know that he was brilliantly intelligent and had a great vocabulary and vivid imagination.

I’ve now been writing for 25 minutes.  Time does seem to fly once I catch the fire of creativity.  I could talk about Carl and his relationship with his dog, Prince, a German shepherd.  Prince was very intelligent and a good dog.

That reminds me that I’ve left Gunther, also a very good dog, outdoors in the intense heat of the midday sun for at least a half hour.  I”m going to interrupt my writing and go out and bring him into the coolness of the house.  I hope if he had to urinate that he will have done so by now.

[A couple minutes later.]

Now Gunther is sitting at my feet.  I’m thinking about how I can come up with other work to do besides writing, but writing is what I must do.  I must write about my uncle Carl.  I must put the entire book together, chapter by chapter, then I must find an editor willing to polish the works in a professional manner.  Then I need an agent of some sort to help me sell my book.

At times, I think all of the books have been written, all the stories have been told.  Then a little voice in the back of my head wonders if the story is still there, still waiting to for me to put it down in writing.

The story of Carl Bonde.  I’ll likely use some of my weird childhood experiences to embellish his story.

For example, once I found a couple silver dollars on my sister’s chest of drawers.  I took them, gave one to my friend across the alley, kept one for myself.  I think I remember denying that I had taken them, but my sister knew damn well I had, so she told me so in no uncertain terms.  I quickly gave her my dollar and went to my friend’s mother’s where she demanded that he return her dollar from her as well.

A dollar was worth considerably more in those days.  What could you buy for a dollar?  I don’t know.  You could fill up a car with gasoline, or purchase enough groceries for a supper.  Since I didn’t ever have that much money in those days, I don’t know.  I remember that a comic book cost about a dime, an ice cream cone cost about a nickel.  I’d have to work all day to earn 50 cents.  I never had as much as a dollar.  What a lie!  I rarely had as much as a dollar.

Now I’m coming up on forty minutes of writing.  I’m hoping this will make me more patient with writing, that I’ll take the time to do a good job of describing things, without telling too much.  I realize that telling too much to the reader is just as bad or worse than not telling enough.

I’ve just read some of my previous writings along with the edits and remarks of a couple of the editors and writers I respect most from my old writing group.  Beside the admonition for “more,” that was inevitable, sometimes what I wrote just wasn’t clear or I made reference to something that was vivid only to me.

One problem I noticed right away was my ramblings went on for huge paragraphs and those would be too deadly boring for even me to read.  And I wrote them!

Short paragraphs are a treat for the eye.  I like being able to stop reading at any point.

Where is the humor?  I don’t know where.  I find that humor is elusive and difficult for me to corral.  If I could reliably write something funny I would.  What is funny?  Chickens are funny.

My son told me about someone who encountered a rooster.  Or rather, his son did.  The son came running to his father and said, that he was being attacked by a chicken so they’d better get the hell out of there.  I guess what was funny was the child was maybe in the first grade, being attacked.  My son would have given the offending fowl a swift kick, sending it sailing over the goal posts of chicken heaven.

What else is funny?  I am always amused by my good dog Gunther.  Gunther is now cooled off, curled up on the couch, his eyes closed.  When was he funny enough to make me laugh?  I think I delight in his pooping.  He’s getting easier and easier to fool.  At first I had to walk the little fellow clear to the far side of the block before he’d do his pooping thing.  Now I just walk him the opposite direction, around the corner just fifty yards or so, away from our door, then up the side street almost to the alley.  Then, if I dawdle and tarry, he is apt to poop.  This satisfies me immensely because it takes so much less time, especially if I wake up very sleepy and tired at say, six o’clock in the morning.

I have now been writing for about fifty minutes, and guess what?  Penny just came home.  I’m guessing her two o’clock visit cancelled.

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