Five Houses Down

Remember to close your curtains after dark. If I’m passing by an open window, I’m going to slow down and see what I can see. Though I’ve been rewarded enough through the years to continue indulging my guilty pleasure, it matters not what someone might be doing. It’s just that I’m curious about what’s going on whether driving by a lonely house on a dark country road or gazing at all the neighboring windows from a high-rise hotel room.

Is someone on the phone? What are they talking about? Are those people having a party? Why are all the lights on in that house on the hill with only one car parked in front? The house over there is completely dark at 8:00 every night. What do the occupants do each day that requires them to get up so early? Every residence triggers a long list of questions and provides hours of speculation.

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The immaculate house a few doors down. Lacking curb appeal, I’m left to wonder what the owners do all day.

The fifth house east of my childhood home has fascinated me for decades. My mother once remarked that the little white house standing back from the road was so well kept; yet she never saw anyone outside. Keep in mind that we couldn’t see the house from half a mile away unless whizzing by it in our rush to reach the highway, but one would think in 40 years that we’d see someone in the front yard at some point.

Except for meticulously trimmed boxwoods to camouflage the front steps, there are only four other small plants along the front, which do nothing to mask the raised foundation. There are no grand flowerbeds, no colorful borders, nothing to be mowed around or anything to please the eye. The owners are clearly not trying to attract attention or provide visual interest.

In a real estate listing, the smallish dwelling might be described as “cozy” or “quaint” or “meticulous,” but this well-maintained abode raises so many questions in my mind. In an area outside of television cable service, there’s not a satellite dish attached to the slightly pitched roof, and speaking of roofs, I’ve never known this house to need a new one. The white shingles are always in good shape. The lawn is never out of control, but in more than four decades, I’ve never seen anyone mowing it. There are no trees on the front of the lot, and those four plants along the front would take no more than ten minutes to prune, and that would include getting out the tools and putting them away.

There is no barn or garden shed, and the carport, which was added later, no longer has a car in the drive, nor is there anything else stored in it. My last trip to the neighborhood had me slowing down. There was a vehicle in the drive as I passed on the way to see my parents, but there were no cars on the place during the rest of my stay.

I believe someone lives there, and they have the means to keep the place up, but my casual research indicates these people do not enjoy gardening, being outside, watching TV, or getting involved with the neighbors. The backyard is unfenced, there are no pets running toward the road, the house faces north, and some of the windows are high, which indicates limited natural light.

It’s true that I haven’t been around much in decades, but when I was younger, I went by that house at least twice a day. There were never additional cars on holidays, no kids playing in the yard, and there were certainly no eye-popping light displays. These people didn’t even light a candle in the front window.

In my imagination, these two people—perhaps now only one—have been sitting in the dark for almost 50 years discussing anything but gardening, animals, food, exotic travel, and whatever is coming on television tonight.

When I was six, my sister took me trick-or-treating after a battle over my last-minute costume. I liked the idea of dressing up and going out, but I was never keen on asking people to give me candy, which has resulted in my becoming one of those adults who doesn’t like asking for help.

We’d just moved in a couple of months earlier, and perhaps we saw a porch light and mistook its meaning. Dad drove us, and Karen walked me to the door. That Halloween night was the one and only time I’ve ever gotten close to the house though I have passed it thousands of times. The lady of the house dropped pennies into my bag while her husband complimented my costume.

The lack of candy on hand indicated they weren’t expecting trick-or-treaters. I was surely the only kid they’d had that year or perhaps ever. I can recall the husband facing me, standing on his wife’s right, and I think she had blond hair. It could’ve been gray. I have always remembered them being “really old,” but I was six and anyone over 35 could have admitted to being 40 or 70 and I would have believed them. Considering how much time has passed, they couldn’t have been too old that night if either of them are still living in the house and keeping it up.

I was more focused on the coins the lady dropped into my bag. I was ready to reconsider my stance on begging if every knock on the door resulted in cold, hard cash. Because I was blinded by filthy lucre, I missed a wonderful opportunity to steal a glance inside a house that has haunted my imagination for decades. I can’t very well go to the door now and introduce myself as that six year-old kid who came trick-or-treating one time over 40 years ago. The sight of my gray hair would shock them into realizing how long they have been sitting in there night after night as the years became decades and faded into the past. I’ve lost my window of opportunity to know what they’ve been doing in there all this time.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Headline Overload

I had a post in mind for this week, but with so much going on in the news I decided that I would save the article for another time. Like many people, the continuous news cycle has drained me, and I find myself stopping short of a complete self-imposed media blackout. I know enough to stay informed and involved, but I will not give parts of myself away as the networks chip at my soul in an attempt to leave me shouting at the television like a curmudgeonly shut-in.

I’m not advocating for a media blackout, as I got an up-close look at such an approach when two of our summer visitors were unaware of a single current event, as if cultural ignorance is a good thing. I doubt that either will ever read this so I can write without worrying I’ve offended them, but if they do, then I’m thrilled they’re finally poking their heads out. Becoming aware of federal investigations, hurricanes and all the other recent tragedies will make them seem less like they’ve just emerged from a bunker.

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Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In Murdered Justice, Maggie writes about her frustration with the media, and in her next adventure due in early 2018, she’ll say even more about the news in Pennington’s Hoax.

I’m not sure that Maggie can help us, but what we need from the press is accurate information while we apply our critical thinking skills to the facts. That would be our own critical thinking skills, not some pundit’s idea after being processed by pollsters and propagandists. Figure out what’s going on and return to civil discourse. Many of us will never agree, and it’s a myth to think that Americans ever have. In spite of our differences, we once had respect, but I see very little evidence of it today. Our best bet is to turn off the TV and give the networks no incentive to shout at each other while the same footage plays repeatedly in the background.

Once I stop reeling from the headlines, I’ll be back with something more entertaining for you to read.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Seek and Ye Shall Find

A notification recently appeared in my in-box calling for short stories. One of the preferred topics was One’s Crazy Family Members. I was disappointed to learn that only one submission at a time would be considered, as I could probably send 300 pages to them and still not begin to scrape the surface.

A few of my family members have always feared I’d write about them. Their assumptions have been correct. If some aspect of their lives is worth reading about, they should consider how interesting they are. However, no one has complained so far, but people see themselves differently than others do. I’ve not experienced anyone walking over to me at a family gathering and yelling, “I don’t appreciate your telling the whole world what a terrible driver I am!” For one reason, the person in question has great faith in his driving skills. The other reason I’ve never been accosted is my decades-long absences from family reunions. In most cases, I tend to stick with material and people who can’t get their hands on me without holding a séance.

Writing about the dead is a lot more fun. I don’t have to censor my words, I can build up or tear down the plot without worrying what Great-Aunt Maudelle would say if she read about that time her granddaughter danced on the tables at an OSU frat party. When the guilty are still alive, I have to change OSU to SMU and make everyone a Methodist to lend them a sense of decorum.

I recently submitted my DNA for testing. A close relative had already told me that her results were as white and bland as a cotton bed sheet, having not revealed so much as a hushed-up secret marriage or a passenger on a boat load of prisoners coming from England. After my results were posted, I was contacted by a verified “fourth cousin or closer” whose ancestry contains a number of regions on the globe outside of “Great Britain, Western Europe, and the Iberian Peninsula.”

I am intrigued by the various reasons people explore genealogy. Some are looking to connect with distant relatives while some closet royalists seem to be searching for that shred of evidence that put 7th Grandmother Elspeth into the King’s bedchamber circa 1539. A lesser noble would do, preferring dukes and earls to knights, but few researchers seem to realize that such distant and unseemly ties to the sovereign will not get you into the royal enclosure at Ascot.

I do think there are some interesting stories that turn up from time to time. Some friends have turned up a variety of characters while others get a greater sense of how their families ended up in the United States. I found a document indicating that some centuries old uncle had enough of a gambling problem that the man’s father-in-law had to make specific exclusions in his will to protect his daughter’s interests.

I suspect a great deal of genealogical motivation falls under the category Greener Pastures. Having spent a lifetime with the same old faces staring back at them from across the Thanksgiving table, a segment of researches are hoping their luck might be better with a new set of cousins. The pontificating egghead and his cousin who spends her time repurposing used bleach bottles into apparel eye each other with disdain. “We have nothing in common,” they tell their friends. “Nothing. Nada. Zilch.” But family is so important.

Rather than treating close friends as though they were family, the professor and the bleach bottle milliner much prefer blood relations. They get on the computer, sign in and desperately start searching for better relatives in Nebraska. As they both joined the same genealogical research site, their best matches turn out to be each other. There are a few other matches, but they’re secondary. The researchers are desperate and reach out to the rancher in Arizona and the dental hygienist in Michigan. Those people are either too buy, too uninterested, or too satisfied with their relatives to respond to an urgent inquiry by someone claiming to the child of a great-great-grandmother’s sister.

I enjoy a peak into possibilities, but I don’t see it as becoming a regular pastime. I was cured of any such cousin curiosity after hearing that I had relatives out there who owned a sporting goods store in New York. I got it all wrong. I was thinking New York, weekends in the Hamptons, sailboats, polo mallets, and gins and tonic in the clubhouse only to find out they were upstate and catered to more of a fur-trapping-on-the-Hudson clientele. Sometimes you leave home only to find out that you never had to.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

What Would You Take?

The dying sun is described so vividly in The Magician’s Nephew, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. After Digory Kirke grabs Polly Plummer’s arm in order to ring the golden bell and wake Jadis, the world of Charn comes to an end. In the final book, Lewis describes the death of another world, and a much older Polly and Digory, who are present, recognize the end of that world by its dying sun.

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A view of the sun through smoke at 6:00 p.m. on Labor Day

I am reminded of both worlds these past few days when viewing our sun through the dense filter of smoke, which surrounds us in late summer as the fog envelops us in the cold months. With the chaos of evacuations, news footage of what the fires have left behind, and maps of more and more fires burning through the West, I can fully imagine the end of the world.

Fires are close to Portland today, and have affected Los Angeles since last weekend. If it’s not fire, it’s flood as Hurricane Harvey made its way through the Gulf Coast and, as I type, Irma is heading straight for the Florida Keys. With hurricanes come tornadoes as well as winds and surging water. With evacuations and rescues, there are so many people forced to leave their homes not knowing what will happen while they’re gone.

A few years ago I was running errands one morning and saw the California hillside a few miles north engulfed in flames. Three careless campers were responsible, and they probably had no idea the lives they changed that day. Friends of ours lived in the area and were told to prepare for evacuation. One of them later described the stab of reality when you’re faced with true danger and wonder what you need to grab.

There are a select few who say, “They’re just things,” and how fortunate for them to live so simply or perhaps foolishly, but what does one take? Photos? Not everyone has scanned every photo into a digital file, but surely you’d grab the computer. I couldn’t bear to lose my life’s work, so the laptop is a must. European refugees and civilians in the Civil War were known to bury valuables, many of which were never seen again, but you can’t bury things in a flood, and the water is not a looting soldier.

So many important papers are saved electronically these days, but birth certificates, insurance policies, passports, bank information, and other ways to prove one’s identity must be taken along. You can get clothes later, but evacuation is all about priorities and, of course, where to go next, what will be there to eat, and is there going to be fresh drinking water?

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A view of the eastern skies on a typical summer’s day.

As those around us head to shelters and spend frustrating hours awaiting official updates with only the clothes on their backs, I’m reminded of the millions all over the planet who have been forced to abandon their homes due to war, climate, and terror. Whether by nature or by governments, people are on the move at rates not seen since the end of World War II.

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View of the same eastern skies when the air is filled with smoke.

Eventually the winds will shift, the fires will burn out, flood waters will recede and, at some point, war zones will be occupied only by a few stubborn people who wish to stay and declare victory over a pile of rubble. Depending on the circumstances, some people may return in a few hours while others will never go home again. In either case, I am moved by the joy that washes over them when a door is opened and they are welcomed.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1