Tag Archives: Belle MO

Rock Island Rail snow tunnels: March 1975

This is a two-part story about the house where I lived in March 1975 and the perfect snow that cancelled school the entire first week of that month 37 years ago. Look for the conclusion on Tuesday.

Memoir-In-Progress

From my Black Book of Great Adventures

March 5, 1975 — Four days ago I went fishing. Today is the fourth straight day of snow; about 18 inches on the ground, but not real cold. Our dog Mo-Mo is pregnent. Build more tunnels beside the tracks. Fritz got killed by the train, Leroy buried him. I said the prayer and thanked God for little dogs …

My list of Top 10 Weather Events of My Life, honorable mention, includes the heavy, wet snow that fell during the entire first week of March, except the 1st. The depth of the snow was memorable; but barely freezing air temperature created the most perfect snowman-building, tunnel-making snow of my life. My friends, Stacy and Lacy, lived just across the street, and the Rock Island Railroad ran within an easy snowball’s throw behind their house, chugging through Belle, Mo., on its route from Eldon to Union.

The rail was our ready-made path to adventure: animal bones (some complete skeletons of opossums, raccoons and similar critters, and skulls and other bones from deer and coyotes) that encountered the Rock Island train); the old vacation village of Gascondy and the Gascondy Railroad Trestle seven miles to the west, just south of Summerfield; and the much-closer Belle City Park Lake where we caught more than our share of bluegill, sunfish and bass for the better part of four years.

It seems like my family lived there so much longer, because when my mind goes back to the very best years of my childhood, I usually go back to the green duplex at the corner of Eighth and Swanson. The distance from my south-facing bedroom window to the railroad tracks was 25 paces. (Measured in 11-year-old boy paces).

That house was where I slept and ate and performed all imaginable – and unimaginable — chemistry experiments in my bedroom “laboratory.” If chemistry set Bottle A specifically warned, “Do not mix this chemical with Bottle B,” well, guess what? I’m pretty sure I passed out once or twice.

My “lab” shared space with two or more aquariums/terrariums that provided habitat for the snakes, field mice, crawdads, tadpoles, lizards, salamanders … well, everything I could catch. “My side” of the duplex is where my mom told me after school one day, “You know your father and I are getting a divorce.”

Some locations, some events — some exact moments — you never forget.

Just like I’ll never forget the joy and tragedy of the first week of March 1975.

Continued tomorrow …

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Filed under MIP: Memoir-in-progress

The Write Life: Setting as character

It’s Saturday, time for The Write Life, an exploration of words and the nuts and bolts of the writing craft. Guest posts and comments are strongly encouraged.

Setting as character

I simply have to learn how to use Dropbox. I’m constantly emailing myself notes and reminders. This week I had an epiphany about viewing my fiction’s setting as characters: alive and organic. Give the setting weight, make it an integral part of the story, not just an element that fits a novel-writing formula

I thought I was really on to something until I found this buffet of thoughts on “setting as character.”

I was especially struck by the last line: “The only question will be whether you use your setting consciously, or it uses you.”

I’ve tried to put some of these ideas into practice this week as I’ve honed, revised and forged ahead on my unfinished first draft of Chasing The Devil. I know my characters intimately, yet I don’t watch them in the bathroom. Sounds a bit awkward, I know, but the point is there are unseen elements in their lives. And that’s okay. They aren’t automatons. Robots. (That’s an idea someone else can pursue; it’s not my genre).

In the same way, I want to know some of my settings so intimately that they are alive, yet retain the shadows, nooks and crannies that make them complete — and more life-like. In my tiny hometown of Belle, Mo., the damp, dank areas between the buildings on main street (Alvarado Avenue/Highway 89) always caught my eye. When we lived above Faith Baptist Church – the old Dahms Hardware building that was infested with brown recluse spiders – one of those shaded, shadowy walkways separated Faith Baptist from the local newspaper, Tri-County Publications. The street-side entrance was through a brick archway and I always felt as cool and tough as James Dean when I went between those buildings.

And I like thinking about the nooks and crannies in the lives of Cole Davenport and Jamie Light, the primary protagonists in Chasing The Devil. I know 99 percent of all there is to know about them. Somehow it’s nice to know that there’s 1 percent – probably more – of mystery. Besides, it leaves room for my fictional creations to grow and develop.

I suppose there are dark alleys and breezeways in both characters and settings.

Here’s one attempt to create a setting as vivid as the characters. In this example, from the chapter “Missing Pieces,” the old house of Cole’s childhood seems to literally breathe. At least that’s the movement and presence I’m trying to create. Cole’s mind is tortured by empty, shapeless memories of something his parents and sister refuse to acknowledge, much less talk about.

I want the creaking floor to become so familiar to my readers that the mere mention of that setting triggers sights and sounds in your mind. (Let me know how I’m doing).

MISSING PIECES

(Chasing The Devil)

Every floor board in the house announced each approaching footstep, each closing door, and every stiff breeze that frequently blew across the flat expanse of Cole’s hometown. His mother complained that something was always “settling.”  The house wasn’t as old as it sounded, and until recently the predictable vibrations of something settling took Cole’s mind to a different time, a nostalgic trip to a more peaceful time. A time before the night-long nightmares began.

He read the sounds vividly and depended on the rattling from the China cabinet to announce the next person coming down the stairs. The importance of that announcement was incalculable when the teen-age Cole sat on the sofa with his high school sweetheart – with the lights off.

The staccato, high-pitch “ping” of the cream-colored gravy boat was a dead giveaway for his sister, Penny. The cabinet doors emitted a low, prolonged growl of sorts, sometimes barely perceptible, when his dead approached the top of the stairs. Now even that sensation slipped further away with each nightmare seizure. The missing pieces of memories cried out for exposure from the fog and static in Cole’s mind, and the mental chaos blocked the signature rattling. Now Cole felt like a stranger in the creaking, noisy house, sitting on the sofa, more like an unannounced houseguest, waiting for his dad to summon his mom from her bedroom. This time, he said to himself for the thousandth time, she’s going to tell me the truth.

Cole missed the China cabinet’s high-pitched pinging announcement that Penny was on her way downstairs. A shadow on the wall below the off-key musical bird clock was the giveaway that Penny was finished having another whispered conversation with their mother upstairs. His sister’s tired eyes were full of disappointment. It was a stinging look that Cole knew well.

“Cole, you’re such a moron.” His sister shook her head slowly. “You just can’t let it go.”

Next time Cole’s childhood home comes into the picture, I’m hoping you’ll “see” the sounds, and feel that the creaking floors are as important to the scene as the cacophony of misfiring synapses in Cole’s mind.

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Cave song

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

A memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey, centered on but not always about Wednesday night prayer meetings of my childhood and teen years.

 

Caves have impeccable acoustics.

There’s a cave at Windermere Baptist Conference Center near Lake of the Ozarks. In September 1981, a group I was with from the Baptist Student Union in Warrensburg left a late Saturday night worship service as part of a weekend youth conference. Instead of heading back to our cabins – men and women had separate quarters, of course – we instead hung out on the grounds, somehow staying in the shadows and avoiding the slow, sweeping beam of a night watchman’s flashlight.

We were under direct orders – both from conference staff and our BSU director – that anyone not in bed with lights out at the stroke of midnight wouldn’t be allowed on future trips.

There were other, non-specific consequences, the type that 18- and 19-year-old Baptists flatly ignored.

There were about 15 in the group I was in, so we must have felt braver en masse. Just after midnight we dashed from the cover of a shadow into the cave. I wouldn’t say I was the ring-leader, but I was in front with one of our two flashlights. Someone in the back had the other flashlight.

I don’t remember the cave having much length, and as I recall it had a shallow spring that seeped from under a dead-end wall. When we reached that point, I switched off my flashlight. The girls screamed. (And probably some of the guys, too). Then the flashlight in the back went off.

I started the praise chorus, “Alleluia.” That was the first verse. Just “alleluia,” sung to very simple, harmonious chords. Second verse was “I will praise him, repeated eight times, following the same simple chords. Third verse was “He’s my Savior.”

Back in Warrensburg, I’d auditioned and was selected for “Testimony,” the BSU’s touring music group. I never was sure whether to sing bass or tenor – or just carry the melody. One of my group-mates, Elaine Black, had one of the most effortless soprano voices I’ve ever heard. She was somewhere in the group of singing Christian rebels that bathed the limestone cave walls and ceiling with rich harmony.

Gently powerful.

We finished the song, I think someone probably prayed – we’d have lost our Baptist cards if someone hadn’t prayed – and just as I flipped my flashlight back on, the applause of one person approached from the entrance.

The night watchman.

As he wiped tears from his eyes, he whispered, “You kids get to your bunks.” He thanked each of us as we walked past him, following his quiet order.

“Testimony” was a musical experience I had from the fall of 1981 to the spring of 1982, maybe eight or nine months. We sang in all corners of the state, visited every group member’s home church (mine was Faith Baptist in Belle, Mo.), and sang at every nursing home or veterans home in the western half of the state.

My hands-down, favorite piece we sang was a chorale, “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All”  — a capella, of course. It was the most challenging piece in our repertoire, so naturally we worked on it the most. And we performed it exceptionally well. I loved the bass line and even though I haven’t sung that song in almost 30 years, the memory is crystal clear. We had quite a few upbeat songs and my group-mates teased me – kind-heartedly, of course – about my preference for more sacred, slower pieces, such as “Jesus My Lord …”

We sang at a nursing home – in Clinton, I think – and the scene, as it is in most nursing homes, was just sad and depressing. That particular performance was especially uncomfortable and awkward. You could say we just weren’t “feelin’ it.”

That changed when we sang “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.” As we sang the final measures, one old woman with a walker slowly made her way to the front. She stood in front of us, stepped away from her walker, and motioned to our director, Jon, to have all 10 of us kneel in a circle. In complete silence, she shuffled from person to person, placing her hands on each of our heads. Jon said she was praying. I didn’t hear it.

But I could feel it.

So I leave you with a treasure I found early this morning on YouTube: Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.

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Filed under Inspiration, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

A three-piece suit and wavy hair

Countdown to Kianna

10, 9, 8 … Kianna, please don’t be late. 7, 6, 5, 4 … Four more days — and no more?

Kishia and Darnell so carefully planned our first grandbaby’s addition into their lives, timing this grand event to meet career, school and financial goals. With that regard, it’s “mission accomplished.” In more than one way, increasing the size of the Brown family was practically scripted.

Until now.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Kianna might not be following the script. She’s due on Sunday – four days from now. She’s in position, mom-to-be Kishia is beyond ready to be un-pregnant, and daddy Darnell needs his daughter to keep him company in that rocker.

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

October 1981: Vocalist Jodie, organist Mrs. Irene Grossenheider.

Mrs. Irene Grossenheider was old even to the old people at Faith Baptist Church in Belle, Mo., when I was in high school. She taught piano to hundreds and multiple generations of children. And as the church organist, she knew only one tempo: Hers.

On the rare occasion that I was the worship service song leader, I followed her, even though I used one arm to “conduct” and keep the beat, matching my arm and hand motions to the meter of the song. Mrs. Grossenheider told me she appreciated the way I led, but I think she mostly appreciated that I was really matching my arm movement to her organ-playing.

It was her beat – possibly multiple beats, especially if the hymn was written with a 6/8 time signature. She’d speed up, she’d slow down. She was in command. My youngest sis, Kathy, and I still share a chuckle about Mrs. Grossenheider’s style. It’s not a disrespectful chuckle, but something we remember with incredible fondness. And when you added my mother to the mix, the musical dynamics really ramped up – and not in the hymn notations.

Mom is a classical-trained vocalist and director. SHE would determine the beat and meter. Mix that attention to technical detail with an elderly organist who thought that SHE was setting the beat, and what resulted was Mom practically stomping a foot, looking Mrs. Grossenheider’s way to signal, “Follow ME.” But Mrs. Grossenheider followed herself. Where there was no retard (pronounced “ruh-tard,” meaning slowing or slackening in tempo), Mrs. Grossenheider threw one in, typically in the last few measures of the last stanza.

Those memories and nostalgic laughter came rushing back recently when I found a photo of me with Mrs. Grossenheider. Sure, my three-piece suit and permed hair are worth a laugh, but often it’s what we see on the periphery that gives any scene the most context. The photo shows the attendance and hymn boards. See? Proof of what I’ve said a few times in Jackson’s Journal about Sunday night attendance dropping off dramatically from Sunday morning. The Wednesday night crowd was even smaller.

Then my eye caught the board listing the hymns. I knew that hymn 41 was “To God be the Glory.” I’ll know that forever in the same way I’ll never forget the words to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song; the same way that “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme sometimes randomly turns on in my head. I pulled my Baptist Hymnal off the shelf to see the other hymns, and it was only fitting that hymn No. 434, “Serve the Lord with Gladness,” has a 6/8 time signature. I suddenly heard Mrs. Grossenheider play the final line of the chorus: “Wonderful is His name,” (slower) “We gladly serve Him,” (even slower) “His great” (verrrry slow) “love proclaim.”

I’m laughing, but please don’t misinterpret my emotion. I’m not poking fun, no more than I was making fun last Wednesday when I recounted Brother Keithley’s drawn-out prayer-starter, “Our Heavenly Father …” The hymns, the prayers, the strong if not rigid examples of faith and practice set by the elderly men and women helped keep me grounded. I am eternally grateful.

When I was 16, 17 years old, few parts of my life were predictable, but I found reliable structure inside the walls of Faith Baptist Church. Mrs. Grossenheider’s organ-playing and Bro. Keithley’s prayers were constant, consistent and predictable. I mean that in the most positive way possible.

Incidentally, the other hymns listed were #330, “Teach Me to Pray,” and #232, “I Am Praying For You.”

I had no idea why I had a picture taken with Mrs. Grossenheider until I turned the photo over to place it on the scanner. This is what’s written on the back:

“To Jodie who sang beautifully

Toleda and Terry Jett’s wedding

Oct. 25, 1981

Mrs. Irene Grossenheider, organist

Miss Kathy Jackson, pianist”

Sorry, but I have no recollection of singing or what I sang. I’m even more baffled that I sang at all, considering my sister was the pianist. She was Toleda (Backues) Jett’s classmate and her vocal skills were far superior to mine. But I was asked to sing?

Here’s our music for Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting: an oldie and a more contemporary tune. “To God be the Glory” and Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei.” The latter is a 10-minute video. Even a Southern Baptist might find himself raising his hands by about the three-minute mark.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #33

I haven’t been on my “A” game this week. Gee, I can’t think of anything that would steal my focus and keep me kinda anxious.

Oh, yeah: You.

Your Grammy said last night, “I can’t wait to see her little face!” Kianna, you have already brought infinite joy to your parents and grandparents.

Now hurry up and get here. Grandpa’s got some spoiling to do.

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Filed under Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

Countdown to Kianna

Marking the days off the calendar: 15, 14, 13, 12 …

In a dozen days, give or take a few, the Darnell and Kishia Brown home in Jefferson City will never be the same again. Not only are they going to see me and Kelly more frequently, but the real change will come in the form of a literal bundle of joy named Kianna Allene. I told Kishia as recently as Sunday that she has the green light to lead me to the front door when I become too overbearing.

It might come to that. (It’s not likely Kelly will wear out her welcome).

Kishia wasn’t quite a full day old on Feb. 27, 1985, when we took her home from St. Marys Health Center in Jefferson City. Kelly had slept a little bit the night before and I’d gone home to Belle, smoking a cigar on the way. Seemed like the thing to do.

I vividly recall the very moment that the full force of parenthood slammed into me. (Something tells me Kelly already had that figured out). As we motored south along Highway 63, Kelly and I chatted as if for a moment nothing had changed. Then suddenly I glanced in the back seat to see a baby in a car seat. We were in Westphalia, just past the convenience store on the right.

We had a baby. In an instant I felt panic and a great sense of uncertainty: I had no idea what to do. Then a different realization swept the fear away. Look what we had done!

We had a baby!

Kishia sings to her new baby sister, Natasha, in March 1987. Kishia was eager to impress her sister. I can report that she moved past that stage a long, long time ago.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #25

Be bold. Live boldly. Have confidence. Be the kind of person who brings out the very best in others. Expect the best from yourself, but have plenty of grace for yourself  – and others – when they disappoint you.

How do you learn bold yet humble confidence? Simple.

Always work your crossword puzzles with an ink pen, not a pencil.

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Filed under Family, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

The written record, etched in time

Countdown to Kianna

Eighteen days, 17, 16, 15, 14 — two weeks until Feb. 19, the date that Kianna Allene Brown is set to arrive.

Kelly — Grammy — finished sewing two mattress covers for Baby Kianna on Saturday, so it’s time. After we attend church with Kishia and Darnell this morning at One in Christ Baptist Church in Jefferson City, maybe we can have a little lunch and then drive to Boone Hospital to get little Kianna delivered.

Sure. Good plan.

The written record(s)

I love my job as a news reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. Thirty years ago when I started in this profession, I reacted to my byline with a reaction of, “How cool! My name’s in the paper. I wrote that article.”

The ego-boosting property of one or more daily bylines isn’t what it used to be, but I’m still amazed that I get to go to work every day as a reporter. I barely have two years of college on my resume’ and it’s that lack of formal education, among other things, that often leaves me feeling like I don’t belong. I still smile almost every time I walk through the Tribune doors. I can’t believe I get to make a living doing what I hoped I’d be doing when I was 13.

Before that I was planning to attend college at Arizona State University – probably on a baseball scholarship (of course) – and pursue the love of the first decade and three years of my life: Reptiles. ASU is the college Reggie Jackson attended before embarking on a Hall of Fame baseball career, but more than that, ASU at the time had the nation’s preeminent herpetology program.

Seriously. I was sure I was born to be a herpetologist – a reptile scientist. (Not “reptilian” scientist, like the aliens in “V.” But that would have been cool, too). I’d probably specialize in snakes and lizards. Besides, I was already on my way to “expert” status with all the snakes and/or lizards I’d already captured, studied, fed and been bitten by.

Eventually, though, I realized there was one problem.

Math.

The prerequisites for admission to the Arizona State herpetology program included all the advanced math and science that was available on the planet, which meant that most of those courses weren’t available at Maries County R-2 High School in Belle, Mo. I was a “B” student in algebra 1 and 2, and geometry, but I had to absolutely bust my hump to get that grade.

Nothing else in high school – with the exception of my principal – gave me as much grief as math. Time for trig and calculus?

See ya.

And that’s basically how I ended up a journalist. I figured I wouldn’t need advanced math for this profession and – sorry, Mr. Fann – I was right. Anyway, it worked out pretty well. Not that many jobs out there for herpetologists, I suppose.

Last night I shuffled through a Rubbermaid tub of old newspapers and clips with my byline. I’ve been a reporter, stringer, sports writer or editor for: The Belle Banner (my hometown newspaper, including sister papers The Bland Courier and the Maries County Gazette-Advisor in Vienna); The Muleskinner (campus paper at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg); the Gasconade County Republican weekly newspaper in Owensville; the Post-Tribune and Daily Capital News, evening and morning editions of the Jefferson City News Tribune; South Callaway Courier weekly newspaper in Holts Summit, which eventually became the twice-weekly Callaway Courier and then the daily Callaway Courier, and then back to the weekly Courier – mostly with a three-person staff; the Fulton Sun; Hannibal Courier-Post; Mexico Ledger; Quincy Herald-Whig; California Democrat; Centralia Fireside Guard; my own Northern Boone County Bullseye, which published 202 editions before “expiring” in September 2008; and the Columbia Daily Tribune. Countless bylines attached to articles picked up by The Associated Press have appeared from coast to coast.

That makes me almost laugh out loud with glee. I can’t believe I’ve been able to do this for a living. It makes me think of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer is mistaken for an employee at a big company until finally he writes a business report and the boss says something like, “This stinks. It’s as if you have no business training at all.”

I keep waiting for someone (besides an angry reader) to tell me that.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #23

The birds have been singing a little more loudly the past few mornings. I keep bird seed available in a couple of feeders, one of which gets raided by the squirrels. I can’t wait for you to discover things like squirrels and birds and earthworms and crickets and the hidden world of creatures that lives in the grass in your own backyard.

We’ll look through a telescope into the cosmos. We’ll grow our own paramecium and look at them under a microscope.

There’s so much to hear, see, feel, taste and smell. (Note to Grandpa: there’s another story entirely about “smell.” Maybe later. Right, Kishia?)

It’s gonna be GREAT!

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Filed under A reporter's life, Family, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress