VIVIAN’S BOOK OF LOVE, a Novel

                               Praying Chief at Sundance, Utah

For my next fiction manuscript I have chosen settings close to home. This setting at Sundance Resort, Utah is a pleasant place where I have gone to refine every manuscript ever written, including The Last Valentine, a novel adapted by Hallmark Hall of Fame to produce the 2011 hit release with Betty White and Jennifer Love Hewitt; The Lost Valentine.

It is peaceful, and often passed over by visitors to the state.  Not a large resort, its natural peace and beauty lends to a slow pace, thoughtfulness, and introspection.

Within a range of a couple of miles are the locations where the plot for Vivian’s Book of Love takes place. That would be on the Provo River, a rafting and fly fishing spot just below Robert Redford’s Sundance.

I hope you may enjoy this “set up” to the proposed novel as I use both first narrator and third person voices for the development of our story.  Here is the opener to Vivian’s Book of Love.

 

PROLOGUE

 

Snow capped peaks loom over the village park that carries her name. For one hundred and twenty years it has been a pleasant get-a-way spot for residents from the valley towns down the canyon.

Simple charms attract a certain kind of visitor to this often passed-by connection from the valleys above to those below. One reason they come is its smallness. Natural beauty alone and modest cabins greet the visitor to the trout stocked river, lined with its willows, pine, and the cottonwoods which shed like snow falling in June.

The scene of the white fluff wandering in a summer breeze, and Vivian chasing it with girl-like glee along the river path, still stops my heart, making our wonderland feel like an eternal replay of a favorite ballad; the one heard when once upon a time, you first fell in love.

For most others the ride is the experience. Creosote treated railroad ties and aging iron track still carry an original 1905 Baldwin Steam Locomotive with turn-of-the-century passenger cars in tow and the quintessential caboose guarding the tail end of the train.  The locomotive winds its way through the river gorge in the shadow of soaring pined ridges where the eagles nest. Tourists come to the one whistle stop called Vivian’s Park each Saturday with the Ghost Train chugging up the canyon for Halloween, and the Polar Express breaking through snow drifts during the Christmas season.  Slow, with passenger cars resembling the old west era, a magic lost to our modern world of fast everything, comes alive.

From deep within aquifers of the Rocky Mountains above us there is the unfailing year-round source of spring water falling from two sedimentary formations created over one million years of passing time.

Constant, the Bridal Veil Falls reminds me of its timelessness. Someone one hundred years ago would have witnessed with their natural eyes the exact same dramatic vista–cascading sprays of water forming a wide veil when the unending stream of droplets finally reach their destination from the heights above.  The locally romanticized falls speak to the human senses this truth; that everything of value and beauty takes time.

But, where there is an end to life, the passage of hours turning in to days, makes time an adversary to the one thing in youth you think will be endless…

Like the Swiss clock handed down from generation to generation, it relentlessly ticks away. An equal amount of the tick-tock stuff is given to all, but those precious seconds of lingering hand-holding, pleasant conversations, and admiration–which the eyes lock into memory–become like a leaf caught on a sudden breeze.

What you fill one minute with passes on—even as you contemplate how to spend more hours doing what brings you pleasure. There are precious snap shots–those moments frozen in a day from long ago–but you can only memorialize them, fill albums with them, or write of them as I do now.

Time is a thief. It passes away. It doesn’t sleep, slow, stop, or rewind. It simply goes on in a ticking of give and take, but allowing for memories.

Memory is a good and wicked thing at the same time. When love falls upon the soul like the Bridal Veil does upon its admirers–narrow in the beginning and wide at the end–it carries you away.

With Vivian I learned the things of love that her presence cemented into my heart. Those wonderful, terrible, haunting, and dream-like phantoms are encased safely where I can go and visit; and for a moment I feel her lips against mine, and her hand teasing me as she waves for me to come and follow her down the now silent tracks.

I awaken angrily from those day dreams which seem more frequent, now that the clock only seems to tick more slowly. Within the same cursing of breath–that my pleasant visions have vanished so suddenly–there is also some sense of gratitude for having been with her, ever so briefly. Time gave those gifts to me, and I mustn’t curse it.

I seek now to share the cold hard truths and the idealized romance of it all, but not with moralistic rhetoric; well except, perhaps, in my opener to “The Western Philosophers 101” class each I teach each Fall and Winter semester at the U.

They can take it or leave it, but the sooner a person seeks what I lay out–well, I’ll let you decide…

I welcome that first freshman class each September and then it begins:

“There are many kinds of love,” he said. “Have you ever been in love?”

He looked out over the classroom of fresh-faced freshmen and watched some suddenly sit up from their slouch, others nervously shift in their seats, and a few offer the cocky assurance that they are about to waste an hour of time.

“If you have not, then I will tell you how it feels. Everyone keeps a book of love,” he began.

 

This sneak peek is the set up to Vivian’s Book of Love. Twists, turns, and secrets kept follow as we learn a young man’s background, his name, and the surprise that Vivian becomes to him.

 

 

DADS Who Make a Difference

When I wrote, “DAD, The Man Who Lied to Save the Planet” in 2003 the world already was in desperate need of role models for fatherhood in general; examples centered on traditional moral values, showing a living road map for successful male parenting.

While an edited revised edition — to include more material — will be available in 2018 in print-on-demand, Audio, and eBook, the principles found in the first 12 chapters remain the same.

I offer my reading of CHAPTER 12 — his final words — for listening at my website homepage: www.jamesmichaelpratt.com.

BE ATTITUDES from revised “As a Man Thinketh…In His Heart”

A revised edition for 2018, of “AS A MAN THINKETH… In His Heart,” takes the 2008 self-published edition and the present realities of a fast-paced digital steroid world, and re-introduces the characters of the personal growth category novel.

The time tested morals are based upon the slower heart approach to thinking — which a 19th century literary ghost and host of the cottage on the hill in Ilfracombe, England prescribes to his present day author guest. Told by Pratt in an Og Mandino first person style, (where the main protagonist is also the actual author taking the reader into the story’s world) action is interspersed with unexpected revelations and discoveries.

The truths are delivered by an ethereal writer who actually lived in Ilfracombe and became famous for a bestseller still selling well today — As a Man Thinketh,  James Allen, 1904.  The following “be attitudes” are new to those too busy to give time to ponder them. Delivered in an entertaining style with other truths wrapped in a paradigm termed “power-thinking,” they arrive in a day and time where they seem to be in short supply.

A bestselling thinker from the turn of the 20th century, James Allen was a philosopher who still blesses readers today, and whom author Pratt discovered in his 19th year. Now Pratt delivers “the rest of the story” in hopes that a path to personal peace and a more joy-filled living may be adopted in our time of hyper-distractions, addiction to mental stimulation, and a speed driven culture in constant need of a quick fix of “more…”  Whatever that may be.

BE ATTITUDES from As a Man Thinketh…In His Heart (2018 edition)

  1. Be kind to others. It is your unique gift to the world
  2. Be valuable and success will follow
  3. Be modest in conduct; others will notice
  4. Be a servant to everyone on your path
  5. Be joyful-the antidote to great or constant pain
  6. Be honest-honor will become a crown for life
  7. Be frugal and a path of wealth arrives
  8. Be thoughtful; it returns in kind
  9. Be forgiving and you will find peace
  10. Be a creator and you partner with God
  11. Be someone’s hero, and you will stand on higher ground
  12. Be for love above all; you then love will be for you

“Mind is the master power that molds and makes, and man is mind and forever more he take the tool of thought; and shaping what he will, brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills. He thinks in secret and it comes to pass. environment is but his looking glass.” James Allen, 1904

SNEAK PEEK — When the Last Leaf Falls

 

 

When the Last Leaf Falls

by

James Michael Pratt

Copyright 2017

 

“Cupid in these latter times has probably laid aside his bow and arrow and uses fire arms…”  Hawthorne

 

Prologue

The Story Teller

     Visits to another world happen when you are transported to extra-ordinariness by stealth; because an author is forgotten, and characters become real, and because when the story ends you want more.

This worried him. After all, his life had not been that extraordinary. The simple story he’d share tonight was one of those tales where mystery shrouds the ordinary people from sight, but also makes an improbable romantic adventure come to life.

He was one of the main protagonists in a tale he certainly could not have invented—yet he wondered, and doubted, how the storyteller might become necessarily undetectable.

And there was the fear—very normal for every author’s first book reading—about boring the audience. He didn’t suppose he would be compared to Ernest Hemingway or Harper Lee, especially since first-time author Steven Anderson had a personal stake in the sentimental tale.

He took a deep breath and tried to bury his concerns with a ready smile as he entered the warm cabin filled with local folk. Greetings were exchanged with the hosts and guests as the crackle of a blazing fire of pine warned of the rapidly falling temperatures just outside the southwestern Virginia community near The Meadows of Dan. Steven cleared his throat, took a sip of water and began:

“This is a simple story,” he started, as he searched the faces of those book club attendees gathered in the cozy great room. “It isn’t made of cliff hangers, or twists and turns only to resolve themselves in surprise endings,” he added, followed by a pause to gather his thoughts.

“Rather, this is an uncomplicated account of a man and the two women he loved—in both war and peace—which continues to touch other lives in unexpected ways today.

“My father had spoken of a sacred symbol many times since World War Two ended, and yet my late mother had kept the knowledge of that from him. Love does strange things to a man, and some tokens of remembrance carry heavier meanings than others; even in dreams.

“It might not make sense to the reader, but if you knew how many nights my father had fought the war in his sleep since coming home, and then how mysteriously promises made by two lovers in a world at war came to such a startling conclusion, you would nod your head, smile, and understand.

“See, romantic love, the kind everyone longs for, doesn’t always come to the seeker even once in a lifetime. For most of us, we find that a special someone grows into our hearts over time. If we are among the lucky, love is sweeter in the end than it was in the beginning.

“I was one of those lucky ones, but my story could not have even begun without his…” The author paused to gather his emotions, which filled with memories, had suddenly caught him off guard.

“And…” he began again, “…although it only takes one domino to start the motion for all things to fall in or out of place in our lives, I suspect more is at play. So I ask you to be open to the possibilities found in this story.

“The miracle I witnessed one week in June while on a trip of closure to nearly seven-decade old war wounds, I now share with you. You may determine whether I am delusional, or if this has been a heaven blessed fantasy only a few are given to enjoy during their journeys upon the earth.

“Mathieu, from our story called it, The Book of Life. As you meet him in these pages you will find that while we each plot our own dramas, sometimes it is other lives, who in passing, engrave the poetic verse which connects one unexpected event to another.

“In the end, you may come to know the truth of a saying my mother Alice shared many times over the years, but only now makes sense. It is this: ‘Love, like the mighty oak from a tiny acorn grows…’

The author flipped open to chapter one and began to read…

One year ago

“The need to be with Dad was greater than any other time in the previous twelve months, now that this was an anniversary weekend of not only World War Two’s famous D-Day landings at Normandy but of a double tragedy for both my father and me. It was June two years ago when Yvonne left me, and just last June that my father and I lost Mom.

“I wanted to press ahead and arrive at Anderson Mills before nightfall. I hadn’t gotten much sleep yesterday, and certainly hoped I would make it home and find my room welcoming and warm; a sanctuary from the madness of the past year.

“It is dangerous enough when darkness falls on the Blue Ridge Mountains…” he read to the room filled with fellow Virginians.

 

Chapter 1

Darkness Falling on the Blue Ridge

Darkness had fallen on the one horse and buggy town where Howie had lived his entire life. Lonely, he gazed out from the parlor through the oversized picture-frame window as if he were expecting it to come alive, just as a television screen does with the flick of the remote.

He had done this more and more lately in hopes someone, anyone, would come driving up the long entrance to the farmhouse to spend some time with him.

Behind the yawning grayness of forming thunderheads, an azure canopy, darkened by the setting sun, now started to fill with one million lights. Each starlit orb fought to break free from the cloud-dressed curtain; here and there peeking out to remind Howie that God’s heavens, beyond wind and rain, never really slept. The downpour would start as soon as the light show fell behind the violent rolling wall of storm clouds growing over the Blue Ridge. This would make it a dangerous night for Steven, or any driver on these narrow mountain passes.

From his easy-chair by the fire, he had alternately read the material his son sent days before, and then setting it aside, he looked for car lights from Route 6 three miles down the hill.

The car has to turn up Bluebird Lane to Turkey Creek by the grist mill. Can’t be Steven, he decided each time a vehicle passed that landmark heading north.

He had waited for his son to arrive and spend the night with him before retiring. As a recent widower, a status his son and he both now had in common, the loneliness was getting old.

“You don’t understand being lonely, do ya boy? Always been someone there for you,” he said as he reached out a hand to stroke the head of his constant canine companion. “If it weren’t for you, being so alone would be unbearable,” he added.

It was a quiet night, except for the growing sound of cannons from above echoing across the valley. Unusual low temperatures for early June, accompanied by a light summer drizzle, caused him to put logs in the open hearth.

But then a frigid night, even in early summer, was never that unexpected at Anderson’s Mill. Here in the valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains the weather could change on a dime, and the normal quiet evening could also turn into Mother Nature’s symphony; like a kettle drum beating out booming rhythms backed by percussion downpours.

“Would rather have it like this now,” he determined as the thunder over Anderson’s Mill intensified. Howie Anderson welcomed distraction, some noise, anything to take his mind off the coming trip, which had filled him with considerable anxiety.

Whiskey, his German Sheppard companion of twelve years, snorted in occasional fits of restlessness on a nearby cushion Alice made for their now feeble hound when he was just a pup.

“He still thinks she’ll walk in and give him love. It must confuse the old boy,” the seventy-nine-year-old said aloud. Howie fidgeted with the pages of the map book Steven had sent. It was a book of city and country routes, towns, and an accompanying itinerary of their trip to Europe.

He had gone over the map and always came to the same two spots. One, an American Military Cemetery in Belgium outside Neuville-en-Condroz, twelve miles southwest of Liege, and the other was a small village near St. Lo, France where he met his first love… and also first experienced real heartbreak.

He sipped on his cup of chamomile, a tea Alice always had prepared just before retiring each evening. “It doesn’t taste as good as hers,” he said putting it aside on the lamp stand.

He returned his attention to the long gravel driveway now barely visible from where he sat. The thunderheads had finally closed together. Completely dark outside now, the driving rain intensified as the temperature dropped. The living room window, through which he gazed, seemed a hypnotizing movie screen. It filled with an occasional flash of light to offer another vision; a mental image from memory of a place near Liege, Belgium, and a night and day much colder than this one.

The Ardennes, Belgium December 20, 1944

“Quiet.” The sergeant held up his hand and went down on one knee. It was early morning, the fourth day of the German counter-offensive. The 9th Recon Troop had patrols of ill-equipped Americans inching through the dense forest growth for one hour and it was nearing sunrise.

Still dark, they had gone fifty yards from the tree line, where they had left the M-8 armored car and 50 caliber mounted Willys jeep. The patrol scouted into a clearing of over two hundred meters wide and one-half mile long. They knew the enemy was out there, and it was their thankless job to determine where exactly, the front line began. In this game of hide and seek, the consequences were always deadly.

Immediately the signal passed along the line and the men found themselves frozen stiff in place—a feature of combat easily achieved on this sub-zero temperature day. Suddenly the roar of heavy armor engines and clanking of tank treads echoed across the open field. The beasts appeared from the trees two hundred meters before them.

“Tanks! Down! Everybody down!”

“Geez, Sarge. We got to get back to the M-8,” Anderson called. Corporal Howard Anderson had the point, and along with a Thompson submachine gun slung over his shoulder, carried the platoon’s only bazooka.

Sergeant Fitch eased up alongside him. He pulled out his field glasses. The sunrise was upon them, but still the cloud cover and foggy mists dimmed a breaking daylight on the horizon. But there was no mistaking the monstrous iron form, the steel against steel sounds of tank treads coming at them through the early morning haze, and the roar of the diesel driven killing machines—until the unmistakable form of one of the German Panther V medium tanks appeared breaking through the tree line into the open field.

“We’re dead men if he gets off a shot. You know that don’t you, Howie?”

“You think they have us spotted?”

“Doesn’t matter. They’ve got to be as tired and cold as we are. We hold fire unless they fire first. Panthers have some weak spots but don’t go down with a bazooka shot unless we hit the underbelly or a solid side shot.”

“Well Sarge, as I see it we got one good shot with that little rise on the field, and then that ditch near the trees fifty yards back is all we can hope for. Maybe we should beat it back to the vehicles…”

“We’d be cut down and you know it,” he answered. “Okay… This… is… what we do,” the sergeant answered, teeth chattering. “You shoot. We scoot. Everyone goes, ‘cept you Anderson,” he said. Bone-numbing coldness running through each deliberate word he spoke, Sergeant Fitch tried to shake it off. “So damn cold,” he muttered as he took another look through his field glasses. “You got to make it into the soft underside or we are all dead men.”

Even if Howie got a direct hit, both men knew the score. The chances of a lone soldier winning a shoot-out with the finest all around tank the Germans produced was somewhere near zero.

“Sarge. We got artillery?” Howie nervously asked.

Howie jerked up from his easy chair as the thunder boomed and lightning clapped directly overhead now. Whiskey growled, equally roused from his slumber by the jarring noise.

This cinematic night vision played as real as that day in the Ardennes. His heart racing, he sat in stunned semi-awareness that it had been the same frequent nightmare he had endured since that December day in 1944. He had been the last man, caught out in the open and alone. It had been cold; so very cold. The thought of being the last man standing had always terrified him then, as it continued to do to him now.

He rubbed his hands against his head. Howie’s tired mind was calculating how he could dismiss the ancient memories, as if in massaging his head long or hard enough, he might erase the visions of killing that terrorized him in his sleeping hours.

Enough to give a grown man a heart attack, he grumbled, becoming aware of the hypnotic powers his memory possessed. You’d think I would have buried the war by now, he considered as he allowed himself to relax back into the cushioned comfort of the recliner. As he did, the telephone rang. He reached for the cordless phone sitting next to him on the lamp table and fumbled until he found the connect button.

“Dad? This is Steve,” he heard. “My flight was late. I’m not able to make it tonight. The weather has turned for the worse here in Atlanta. I’ll be up in the morning.”

“Oh… Okay, son,” Howie huffed.

“Dad! You okay?”

“Yes. Okay. Some lightening, thunder… I was dreaming, and I thought…” He couldn’t seem to connect the dots; what he was thinking about, with what he wanted to say. “I’m confused,” he finally offered.

“Dad, listen to me. Relax. Take something to help you sleep. Are you in bed?”

“No. I was… I was… waiting for you and fell asleep in the living room. I wanted to be awake when you arrived but couldn’t seem…”

“Dad, it’ll be okay. I’ll be there around noon tomorrow. And dad?”

“Yes, son?”

“Sleep peacefully,” Steven voiced from Atlanta.

“I love you son. You just be careful.”

“I love you too. Good night, Pop.”

“Good night, son.”

Howie took a moment to try to figure out how to disconnect but finally got up from his chair and simply put the cordless phone in the cradle.

Darn things! He thought. I think I’ll get the rotary phone out of the closet and ask Steven to attach it when he gets here. At least, that way I’ll know how to hang a phone up.

Howie clapped to get his dog’s attention. Whiskey raised an eye open then followed his master into the bedroom. Howie had readied himself for bed earlier, but now took his dentures out and placed them in the solution on the bathroom counter. Army doctors, he mumbled.

He’d had a complete set of natural teeth when he enlisted in the Army at age eighteen in January 1943. By the time he got home from the war in 1945 he’d had half of them replaced by eager Army dentists practicing on GIs in preparation for their post-war dental careers.

He stopped and looked at the poorly made-up queen size poster bed; the same bed they had slept together in since they married sixty years ago. “I never could straighten a sheet or turn the covers like her,” he grumbled.

Howie was uncertain about being alone and going to sleep on a night where he had already experienced one war nightmare. He lay himself down for the evening on his side of the bed— always on his side and never on Alice’s—and hoped the nightmares of being alone, with the enemy closing in, would cease.

He turned with child-like innocence to find her pillow still fluffed. He patted the empty space anyway and tried to content himself with the feeling that she was watching over him.

Next time we lay together it will be out there, he considered as he focused his tired eyes out to the front acreage now illuminated from sporadic lightning flashes.

Whiskey snorted and went easily to sleep in his spot on his bedroom cushion. “Must be nice being a dog,” Howie lamented as he wrestled with the desire to sleep, weighed against his anxiety.

He needed real rest, but not at the risk of another midnight torture session. He thought of abandoning sleep to a pot of coffee, but no, tomorrow was too important for the artificial alertness. His trip to Europe with Steven required an attentive rested mind, and heart. Steven would want him to be alert, would want to ask questions about his war years. Now the fear of dreaming himself back in time to that cold day in the Ardennes where he stood alone against advancing Germans had stirred him to insomnia.

I don’t have to dream it. I was with Fitch. Caught in the open, he mentally posed to himself as he lay back in the bed and stared at the ceiling. The thunder rolled and the lightning still crackled but had distanced itself from the township of Anderson’s Mill now.

Where was I? he pondered. “Fitch…” he said.

Moms and Oatmeal

Author – 2nd from right front row- and Pratt Family, 1957

 

From: The Woman Who Made Oatmeal Stick To My Ribs

Chapter 2

Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.”

— Barbara Kingsolver, Novelist

 

Wholesome goodness is what Moms are all about. What Mom hasn’t gotten up before her children to make sure they were nourished and ready for the world?

All Moms know that the heart needs nourishment along with the body. Until it is filled, an empty stomach can hardly endure patiently Mom’s wise and loving counsel. So mothers feed first and teach second. And behind the rib cage, close to that stomach which each morning anticipates breaking the nightly fast, is the heart.

As a child I grew up under the wings of a Great Depression influenced mother. Her attitudes of care, protection, health, and wisdom were highly motivated by the times and the people she grew up with. There are many lessons of life and values I learned from her which I now recall as I watch her slip into old age; a new age of mothering as shocking a realization to me as it is to her.  But she is still here, and still giving guidance, and still reminding me to eat right, take care, say prayers.

It might not sound like it but Mom was one of those women who could better say what she meant by unconsciously using a metaphor. The frequent oatmeal speech was one such attempt by Mom to instill wholesome habits of nutrition thereby fortifying her children for the day ahead.

“Umm, umm, good, umm, umm good, that’s why…” a jingle from the 1950’s and 1960’s starts, as it still rings in my ears after all these years. In fact, if all that was left of America were its kitchen pantries and travelers from a distant planet arrived seeking out signs of life, they may draw a conclusion or two from what they find.

There in the pantry, as they spin the Lazy Susan they will watch several cans of Campbells, a brand of soup that could be called “America’s Official Soup” because it is so ubiquitous. The other item most likely to be discovered is Oatmeal. The most prolifically distributed brand the aliens will find is Quaker Oats.

If I were an alien from deep outer space, knowing that the entire country was devoid of living human beings, my first communication back to my superiors on the mother-ship might be something like this:

“It would seem that the American humans were known for their tastes with two strange foods. One of them contains a liquid mixed with a variety of edible plant and native animal parts. The other is a dry dusty meal that one can only assume would be hard to swallow. In fact, if consumed in large quantities it might be considered one of the killers of this civilization.”

“You are suggesting the American beings were fed this? A dusty meal, given them by their mothers?” the commander would reply.

“Yes, undoubtedly so. And in its present form it is certainly deadly. One would choke and thus die from asphyxiation unless mixed with the soupy liquid found in cans.”

“I see. Are there any clues as to who the maker or culprit causing this kind of death might be?”

“Yes, Commander. Because it is found everywhere, in almost every residence we have investigated, we believe we can identify at least one source for the flaky material.”

“Proceed with a description,” the alien on the ground hears.

“The containers for this meal substance most universally show the likeness of a rosy cheeked but round faced, white haired, and happy male wearing a black cloak and a wide brim head covering of some type. A hat, I believe the former inhabitants called it.”

“This hat would signify leadership of the American tribe?”

“Perhaps. No doubt they respected him greatly for his image is always found on this meal’s containers they call Quaker Oats.”

“We shall call it oat meal, for the record,” the commander responds back.

“Yes, oatmeal. Quite unlikely any human could eat this without some sort of modification such as adding the liquid first. In fact, supreme leader, there was a written message, a note found in one habitation next to the carton containing the dry food.”

“A communication?” the commander in the mother ship responds excitedly. “It might contain valuable, even secret information,” he suggests to the explorer on the ground. “Perhaps from the happy male himself – their leader,” he adds.

“Yes, Excellency. Or might I suggest this message comes from the feminine side of the race. Everywhere we find images of these American females preparing foodstuffs.”

“Then a message from a female American to the happy man you described?”

“Perhaps. Shall I send the message to you through our portable translation screen?”

“Please.”

“Scanning.” The alien on the ground passes the note through the hand-held device beaming it up to the command ship.

As the words pop up on the screen before the alien commander seated at the control console of the command ship he reads:

“Jimmy. Don’t forget to eat your oatmeal. It will stick to your ribs. Love, Mom.”

“So the leader’s name, the one on the box, was Jimmy. Stick to his ribs. Must be some sort of primordial code. Hum… Interesting.”

Sometimes taking an idea to the absurd serves in illustrating a point. But my point, more recently than childhood, was made another way.

My younger brother Rex, and the brother I grew up closest to — you know, the one you cheat at board games, take advantage of and ask to test the cold water of the swimming pool first -– was in a hospital a few years back for a major surgery that would take the surgeon through his rib cage.

I had promised that our family would pray for him and I just wanted to call him to let him know I was aware of his needs the hour before the surgery was to take place. I had merely expected to leave a message for him. He was in a well-known Los Angeles hospital. Somewhat sedated from the effects of prep drugs he picked up the phone in his private room. Our conversation went something like this:

“So Rex, you worried?”

“No…not…really…” he stammered.

“I’m praying for you.”

“Oh…well, uh, I’m…kinda…drug…ged…right now.”

“Well, I know everything will go well.”

“Oh…O…kay…” he slurred as the drugs took greater effect. “I’d…bet…ter…go…now,” he added, drifting away from the conversation.

“Can you do something for me?” I asked.

“What?” he demanded, but as kind as he could under the circumstances.

“Ask the doctors a question when you come out of recovery.”

“What?”

“Ask them if they found any oatmeal.”

“What?” he squeaked out. “I got…ta…go… Bye…”

“Bye. Love you brother.”

Click.

The surgery was a success and for some reason I thought Rex was capable of remembering our pre-operation conversation when I called him back the next day.

“So,” I said. “The prayers worked.”

“Yeah. Guess so,” he answered.

“You ask the doctors the question?”

“What question?”

“You know. They cut through your ribs to get to that gland and fixed it right?”

“Yeah…so?”

“So did they find what I asked you to have them look for?”

“Jim, what are you talking about?”

“Oatmeal. Did they find any on your ribs?”

Silence.

Rex was still drug afflicted so I let him off the hook.

“Talk to you later. We are remembering you in our prayers. Ask the Doctors for me will you?”

“Yeah…sure. Bye.”

Click.

See, Mom never lied, unlike Dad who lied to get into World Ward Two so he could save the planet. I’m not sure if she ever mentioned it to any of her other children, but Mom definitely had always told me when I lived at home: “Jimmy, eat your oatmeal, it’ll stick to your ribs…”

Today my kitchen cabinets are full of oatmeal. All flavors, I eat the stuff regularly. But I never quite understood what Mom meant by it “sticking to my ribs.” I have never asked either, just assumed if she said it stuck, then it must.

I recall as a boy feeling around my ribcage after eating my oatmeal and wondering if it took a trip other foods didn’t. Maybe oatmeal really did hang out down there.

“…and it’ll keep you warm,” she would add, an assurance that eating the entire bowl would be good for me.

See, I trust Mom. So I had never in my life, not even to this day in my fifth decade, asked why she thought oatmeal, above all other foods, would linger on the ribs instead of becoming digested.

The idea that I took from Mom, especially when I was thousands of miles away from home in South America, and offered almost daily a soupy gruel of watered down hot oats for breakfast (a drink rather than thick spoonfuls) was that preparation for the day with good sound nutrition will keep you safe. It was never quite like Mom’s but whenever I brought the warm cup of soupy oat drink to my lips Mom was there with me.

As I think on it now, the oatmeal comforted Mom too. She just needed to know that something she did would stick to us from home when the seven boys and two girls ventured out into the cold hard world.

Eating oatmeal might not really stick to ribs, but I never, ever, eat it without hearing Mom’s voice. It isn’t just oatmeal that stuck to this boy though. It was the time-tested values that gave real warmth and protection. Like a shield against the punches, life’s knock-out blows to the rib cage, Mom always meant more than just oatmeal would stick. Obeying Mom on eating the hot cereal was assuring myself that I could succeed.

Mom always got it right, because it was always the best she gave. There are no perfect Moms or Dads, nor children I suppose, but some come pretty close. After all is said and done just knowing your Mom cared made a boy feel safe.

And as for the oatmeal, every time I eat it I smile and think about it sticking to my ribs in a special way, a way that causes me to silently say:

     “Thanks Mom. Your warmth and caring has stuck where it matters most, and it still is protecting my heart!”

Virginia Pratt passed away in 2008. The revised version of the 2005 Regional Bestseller "MOM, The Woman Who Made Oatmeal Stick to My Ribs" is due out in the Fall 2017 on Kindle and iBooks.  For updates please visit my website: www.jamesmichaelpratt.com.

THIS THING WE CALL LOVE

Another chapter for “The Golden Rules of Love and Other Really Important Stuff

A manuscript written from the personal point of view of having sought to deliberately live, not just get by or pass through life.

As Henry David Thoreau put it in Walden, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, ” …and I want to understand things as they really are and always will be. Not done trying yet…

THIS THING WE CALL…LOVE

“Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses.” -Voltaire

Real love is the most sought after prize in all human endeavor. To understand it requires a lifetime of pondering, practice, and patience. Seekers and those who possess the quality of heart and soul thank God every day for this thing called love. We have witnessed its touch bring renewed hope to the disheartened, pleasure to the eye, a quickening to the soul; for love sustains mankind.

It leads to commitment, then marriage, on to families and as such creates the social bond we call community. It is The Dalai Lama of Tibet who has said: Without the human community one single human being cannot survive.

Love is the glue to every worldly society for it ultimately calls the mother and father home to nurture the rising generation, to hold it together.

True love beckons the brother, sister, friend to give, serve, lift, and care for one another. It calls out to a comrade to risk everything to save another. Of all virtues, true love is the greatest.

No other emotion so powerfully affects us day to day. Love feeds the starving, clothes the naked and cares for the poor, homeless, widowed and fatherless. Love, like fire, burns at different degrees in all of us. The most hardened criminal can be touched by it, given the right mix of feelings and compassion.

I first started reading on the philosophy of love in 1974 when a college student, I found professor of philosophy and comparative religion, Truman Madsen’s words. This simple phrase has stayed with me all these years:“Love is divine fire, with a large F.”

Over two thousand years ago the Greek philosopher Plato said: “At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.”

And the 20th century sage and Jesuit Priest, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin put it eloquently in free style verse;

The day will come,
after harnessing space, the winds,
the tides and gravity
we shall harness, for God, the energies of love.
And on that day, for the second time
in the history of the world,
man will have discovered fire.

Love.
Written of.
Spoken about.
Reviled and reveled in.
Played out on screen and stage.

Philosophers have written tomes to fill libraries on it. The religious have enjoined it to the grand purposes of the Gods. Nations have fought wars in the name of it, and men have risked their lives to savor love’s romantic qualities.

When “making love,” in the vernacular of the day, a man and women may reach the zenith of life’s pleasures through physical intimacy. In a committed marriage there is rarely anything to compare with the feeling physical intimacy may bring. Because it is done in the spirit of loving their companion in every way, it strengthens and bolsters the marriage, and increases the pleasure of the experience.

If marriage is sacred, then love making is sacred…

Happiness does not come cheaply, and perhaps there’s the rub. We often find in our present condition that the luster of fidelity has faded. Some film and publishing has elevated sexual intimacy alone to the position where real love had always reigned. As long as the uncommitted “hero” is the one engaged in the “love making” it is seen as a sweet and never ending thing.

When the theatre curtain falls and the lights come on, we awaken and are brought to reality again – life is real, earnest, with commitments to be made and kept.

Is a kiss prelude or postlude? Is the touch of skin meant to be used or shared? What if the Gods arranged sexuality (as I suppose it is) to not only be for propagation of the species but absolutely fulfilling and to be anticipated?

“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.” -Ingrid Bergman

Sexual intimacy in the committed path, the path of action that blends the passions with the “harnessed energies of love,” as De Chardin put it, works to bond and build and never destroy.

Do I sound like a prude or unrealistic? I’m a man…quite normal and have given this some heart-felt consideration for decades. The bottom line? I love romance and…

I believe sexual intimacy to be sacred, and “love-making” is equally had in the touch of a hand, a kiss, and emotions wrapped in faithfulness; all this to be enjoyed most fully, not the other way around.

A film producer, once considering one of my books for a film project, came to the conclusion, “Hollywood wants hard love stories James, not soft. Sorry.”

“I didn’t know love was hard,” I answered.

Love is a verb and a noun. To explore its dimensions in literature, song, dance, worship, art and service, is to touch the hand of the Divine Creator of the Universe and partner with him in creating a piece of heaven on earth.

Love is vital…food to the soul.

It is an elixir to the spirit.

It quenches spiritual thirst and puts a quicker beat into the heart of one experiencing its taste. The human heart so affected sends life giving fluids at a more rapid rate, bursting through and to every part of one’s being.

To love truly is to be truly alive. It excites and stimulates creativity. It is loud, happy, noisy at times.

It is also the expression of silence in deference to the bereaved.

It is reverent awe at the realization that there exists a benevolent power greater than us all to comfort us in mourning.

It is the joyful sound of children at innocent play.

It is renewal at the first sounds of birth.

It is the final kiss at the brink of death of one beloved.

It is the courage of a soldier for his comrade, and a fellow man offering safety to one he does not know.

It is the flower from the garden to brighten the table and the rose on the grave as if in soliloquy petals have a voice and can whisper for the deceased to hear the words; “I love you.”

…and it is the feeling coming from an unseen world that the deceased love you still.

The Holy Bible says; “God is love.”

Men have fashioned idols to gods they have named for love. If man alone were the final authority his very testimonial in written form and art spanning six millennia of the recorded history of worship suggest he had enthroned love as the ultimate quality divine.

And if divine, love is more than a special way of feeling…

Love is a way of being.

James Michael Pratt

For more about my writings, published books, and other stuff please visit my website: www.jamesmichaelpratt.com

DISCLAIMER: Not an expert, just a seeker.

James Michael Pratt is a New York Times bestselling author, most well known for the highly acclaimed Hallmark Hall of Fame book-to-film, "THE LOST VALENTINE" and other national bestsellers. His official website and contact information is: www.jamesmichaelpratt.com 

A Slow Dance with Maggie

James Michael Pratt is a New York Times bestselling author, most well known for the highly acclaimed Hallmark Hall of Fame book-to-film, "THE LOST VALENTINE" and other national bestsellers. His official website and contact information is: www.jamesmichaelpratt.com 

 

A Slow Dance with Maggie

I am a novelist. An observing and curious mind prompts me to look through the lens of “what if” for answers to the big questions of life.

Sometimes “what if’s” are long in coming. Other times they smack you in the head before you know what happened…

It was Wednesday August 11th, 2010, Delta flight 1192. I was seated at 28A waiting for take-off at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC.

“Hello this is Maggie, your flight attendant and we are experiencing some unexpected delays due to weather conditions…”

She continued but my heart skipped an immediate beat to a youth dance in 1971 where I was hanging out with Mike Carlisle, affectionately called “Mac” by his closest friends.

“Mac, where did you find that looker you brought to the dance?”
“My older sister. Don’t even think about it.”

“I like dancing with older girls.”
He shrugged, a little disgust evidenced with a nod of the head.
I nervously ventured forth and temporarily lost my heart on the dance floor to “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes.”

She thanked me, whispered something to Mac, and left the building.
“Where is she going?” I asked.
“No guys old enough.”
“What does she do?”
“Stewardess for the airlines,” he replied.

“Hello, this is Maggie again. It looks like we will be at least another thirty minutes. We have complimentary headsets for those who would like to watch a show. We’ll turn the video monitors on momentarily, then…”

The “what if” advanced in my mind as my heart sought rescue from the awful truth which was easily melting my manly composure.

I last heard from Mike Carlisle in 1973. We both had decided the year before to leave college, sports, dating girls, and give service in Latin America to our church for a couple of years–just to balance out our lives and also search for our souls.

He was enjoying a McDonald’s burger in San Salvador, which he took great pleasure detailing to me in the letter that arrived to a MacDonald’s-less socialist controlled Republic of Peru that day in April 1973. I was starving for any kind of food that resembled a hamburger, but enjoyed the typical jesting as he also wrote about another girl who was keeping in touch with him; a “win” he had over me from another dance the prior April before we packed our bags for the unknown.

We assumed we would reconnect back home in Southern California after our volunteer duties in Latin America, and just maybe I’d get another chance to dance with his sister; an older and wiser man then, and maybe more acceptable to an older and wiser woman.

Mail Call came on a July night in 1973, catching me off guard. Sometimes mail arrived from home under two weeks; often up to three. I opened a card my Mom slipped in an envelope a couple of weeks before. It simply showed his smiling face with this under the photo:

“In Loving Memory of Michael Alan Carlisle — MAC.”

A voice over the airplane intercom brought me back to the present moment.

“Hello, this is Maggie again. We know you are eager for more information, and just as soon as we can we will report the cause of the continuing delays. Thank you for your patience.”

Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes on the surface it dances across the mind without a minor delay. Other times it just sits and broods, inviting you to fix the un-fixable.

I looked out through the glass separating me from the downpour which had grounded us and saw Mac, and the 1970’s, and his sister, and time evaporated as tears squeezed from eyes that had seen a lot of changes since then.

The older flight attendant posing as Maggie soon passed by seat 28A. She was energetic and graceful, revealing something in her eyes, smile, and manner recognizable, but…

“This is Maggie again. Federal law requires we return to the gate after three hours. We apologize for this inconvenience,” she said, as the plane rolled back to Gate 19.

We’d be given a chance to stay over-night or continue on waiting for final clearance of flight 1192 to take off again later. After three hours on the ground, I decided to leave the plane and remain overnight in Washington DC.

My heart raced as I got closer to confronting the death of a young friend, my own mortality, and revisiting all I once felt as a young 20 year-old man.

In minutes I stood before her. Eyes searched and recognition sparked as I asked, “Are you Maggie Carlisle from Newbury Park?”

Her eyes filled instantaneously as a noticeably shy girl inside nodded, tried to smile, and finally squeaked out, “Yes.”

“I’m Jim Pratt, Mike’s friend,” is all I could muster. Awkwardness followed as she and I recalled the dance, and strangely Mac seemed to stand there with us as well–instantly bringing it all back to both of us.

Wiping at the tears she said, “I’m sixty now.”

I nodded. “Fifty-seven,” I answered.

We briefly caught up, I offered my love for her mother, the other siblings; all friends of mine.

“I think I’ll catch up on my sleep here in DC rather than take the flight back with you guys,” I said casually as if forty years had not just slipped by. I then walked away, found a cab, a hotel and slept.

I tried to sleep peacefully, but youth and memories hounded me in a fitful pace as they scrolled through my mind’s eye that night. I dreamt of Michael Alan Carlisle that night and blubbered all sorts of youthful things about life, love, and important stuff.

When I awoke I imagined a dialogue I’d have with him if he were to step off a flight from 1973 instead of the casket he was delivered home in.

“Saw your sister last night,” I’d start with.
“I know,” he’d answer. “A dance?”
“No, at the airport,” I’d say.
“So how are things? Much changed at home since we’ve been gone?”
“You wouldn’t believe it,” I’d answer.
“Catch me up,” he’d reply.

Sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes a few slow dances is all we get before God calls us home.

“What if” Mac hadn’t died in 1973?  “What if” he’d married and had children?  “What if” the last dance had been the first dance of many?  “What if…”

Sometimes the music we love and that gives meaning to our lives gets turned off by powers outside of our control. Sometimes your best young friends vanish before they mature into your best old friends.

Someday I will “catch up” with Michael Alan Carlisle, and we will laugh again, and the beauty of our friendships—male and female–made in this brief window into eternity called life, will become a waltz as if no time had passed at all. And… we’ll look into the celestial mirror and see the image of a young man or young woman we once believed would always remain the same.

All “what ifs” will melt away into things as they really are and perhaps were intended to really  be.

In the end, it’s the dance that we create while living which reminds us of why the music played in the first place. Where it all leads is part of the adventure and…

…the mystery.

See you soon, Mac…

Michael Alan Carlisle, April 1953 — June 1973