Friday, November 28, 2008

The Blue and the Gray

I would like to dedicate these stories to Raven, prolific and inspired writer and instigator of the infamous weekly wordzzle. Also my deepest gratitude to Diane, gifted and wise master of levity, who daily reminds me of the medicinal application of whimsy. All stories are unavoidably autobiographical, but some are weightless. I could not have taken this adventure without these extraordinary mentors and muses.

Mini Challenge: sugar-coated, thermometer, tractor pull, evangelical, masquerade

The diet of augsberg is the only diet that works.

We have an ongoing fundamental disagreement with Aaron’s family. The tacit rules of the game dictate that we refrain from verbally wrangling over religion. So when the Feast of St Felix of Thynissa rolls around, we cast all care to the winds. Try as we may, it is impossible to sugar coat our message. Aaron, Clarise and our poodle Tootsie masquerade as evangelicals in tie dyed Apocalypse Now tee shirts. We promote the end times by bringing thermometers to gauge the fervor of the pilgrims. And there are gigantic tractor pulls enlisted for the rapture.

Next Week's Ten Word Challenge will be: posthumous,flagrant, seven days a week, cheese and crackers, pyramid, civil war, clarinet, microwave, absent without leave, blue jeans

Harold sat in the plexiglass pyramid he had constructed in the back yard of the lavish Tudor home on Edgemore Lane. His new domicile was pitched at just the right angle to negate the noxious microwaves emanating from the main house. Seven days a week, 18 hours a day, he had immersed himself in the posthumous ruminations of Madame Blatavsky and G.I. Gurdjieff. During this time, he subsisted on velveta cheese, ritz crackers and red bull. In an inspired moment, Harold sported his blue jeans jauntily over his head and sat in a lotus position playing clarinet etudes with a unique fingering chart inspired by the works of Sir Edward Cayce. Instead of soaking his reeds, he insisted on microwaving them. His erratic jaunts into the kitchen had incited a veritable civil war in the family. His father interpreted Harold’s flagrant behavior as growing pains, while his mother considered her only son absent without leave and actively endorsed seeking professional help. Pretty soon they would have to do something because the shrill squeals emanating from the pyramid were starting to attract attention in the sleepy suburb.

Next Week's Ten Word Challenge will be: posthumous, flagrant, seven days a week, cheese and crackers, pyramid, civil war, clarinet, microwave, absent without leave, blue jeans

Mini Challenge: sugar-coated, thermometer, tractor pull, evangelical, masquerade

The Blue and the Grey

Earnest Gladwell began as a line cook at the chic Crocus Hill Room when it opened to rave reviews 18 years ago. Perched on the bluffs of the charming river town of Alma with enviable views of the Mississippi, the Inn had become a weekend destination for weary urban dwellers and a favorite spot for romantic trysts. Earnest was the most senior of the kitchen staff. He had watched chefs cut their teeth at Crocus Hill and move on to garner the spotlight in San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

Earnest was not an ambitious man. He was content to manage his prep station, mincing shallots and herbs, julienning roasted beets and ginger and zesting limes for the pastes and marinades they were destined to season. Earnest was conscientious, proficient and even tempered. A quick study, he had on more than one occasion jovially filled in for a coworker who casually missed a shift. It was for all of these reasons: his work ethic, his temperament and his versatility, that Earnest was highly valued in a trade where transience and instability are the norm.

Understandably, the first time it happened, his coworkers were quite concerned for his safety and wellbeing. One drizzly Thursday in April, 4 years into his tenure, Earnest simply went absent without leave. He was not a joiner. He did not attend church or tractor pulls. And aside from his passion for history, he was considered to be asexual. Perhaps the person who knew him best was the local librarian. A history buff, he had an unrelenting curiosity about the American civil war.

This April would be no different from the past 14 years. His employers were very tolerant of Mr. Gladwell’s annual rite and staffed up in anticipation of his absence.

In preparation for the approaching event, Earnest had checked out scores of books from the Brookstone Memorial library. The classic, A Beckoning Hellfire, sat precariously, on a veritable pyramid of volumes by this bedside. Seven days a week over a heated span of 4 months, he had immersed himself in reading the posthumous letters and diaries of soldiers, sutlers and civilians. On those evenings when he worked the dinner shift, Earnest scrambled back to his bungalow, foregoing the delicacies that were a fringe benefit of his job. Flushed with excitement and zeal, he hastily changed into his blue jeans and settled down to a modest snack. Absorbed in the 2nd chapter of The Boys of Kalamazoo, Earnest absentmindly placed the cheese and crackers into the microwave. He stilled the rude oven’s beeping and inserted a meat thermometer into the heart of the gummy concoction. “Medium rare”, he proclaimed authoritatively.

Each reenactment had been singular. But what was about to happen was so wonderful that he could barely sleep. Over the weekend of April 21, Earnest would participate in the Battle of Shiloh. Honor of honors, his petition to give a historical impression of General PGT Beauregard had been accepted!!!

Now Earnest is what is known as a threadcounter in the realm of civil war reenactment. What this means is that he pays meticulous attention to the accurate replication of historical detail, down to fabric and buttonholes having the same threadcount typical of the era. But the care he took did not stop with wardrobe. Once he entered Marion field, Earnest was no longer masquerading. He embodied the General in much the same way as Olivier had Lear, and Burton, Hamlet. As Beauregard, there was no sugar coating his flagrant defense of the Confederate cause.

Andrea Sarkov at the library pondered how a mild mannered man like Earnest Gladwell could display such evangelical fervor. Perhaps it all began when he played the clarinet in the Linstrom High School marching band. Maybe this is where he acquired his taste for pomp and pageantry, uniforms and belonging.

It was true. At the reenactments, Earnest felt a sense of comradery that he rarely experienced in his everyday life. He knew that he was a part of something bigger than himself. History was coming alive. And these men would not be forgotten.

The Battle of Shiloh was splendid and Earnest’s first person rendition of General Beauregard was nothing short of stunning. The offensive he led at Pittsburgh Landing was heroic, his retreat to Corinth a tragic setback.

The following Tuesday, Earnest showed up at his work station at the Crocus Hill Room in his cook’s uniform with his set of Wusthof at the ready.


Jay Simser said...

Good Job and you ignited my curiosity. I had no idea what a
"set of Wusthof" was and I had to Google it. Now I want some. Thanks j

Raven said...

You are such a good writer. Thank you for your kind words at the introduction. I'm deeply honored to have such wonderful writing dedicated to me. So glad you have joined the wordzzle gang.

Akelamalu said...

Great stuff! We both went for the re-enactment theme :)

Dr.John said...

To work tractor pull into a religious story has to be unique.Well done!
I enjoyed all three stories. You do have talent.

bettygram said...

I liked odd Harold but best for me was the Blue and Gray.

Carletta said...

All of these are just wonderful!
I smiled that we both linked religion and tractor pulls.

The blue and the grey was most enjoyable!

Quilldancer said...

I loved the last story so much I read it without looking for Raven's words! Very well done! Bravo! Bravo!

gabrielle said...

Hi,Jay. And welcome! My husband and I are doubly blessed. We bought each other Wusthof knives while we were dating. Now we have separate stations in the kitchen which means double trouble. Seriously, I can't recommend Wusthof enough.

Raven - Once again thank you for the inspiration.

Akelamalu - I noticed! Great post!

Dr. John - thanks. Tractor pulls and religion. A natural pairing.

Bettygram - I agree. I had the most fun with Blue and Grey. Thanks.

Carletta - Tractor pulls and religion. We're way ahead of the curve!

Quilldancer - thank you. It makes me so happy that you enjoyed blue and grey. I loved writing it.