ALF

© 2020 Bill Murphy. A work of flash fiction, a writing assignment of The Little Egypt Writer’s Society of Southern Illinois, March 10, 2020.

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     Hello.  My name is Gloria Watkins.  I am seventy-three old, and this is my story.  I’ve never shared this with anyone except my dear mother, and even she steadfastly refused to believe it.  No doubt, neither will you. 

     My story begins with my parents.  But then, doesn’t everyone’s?  My parents were wannabe hippies.  Their problem was, they were from Kansas, not exactly a hotbed of hippy culture.  So the week after graduation from high school, the young lovers ran off and got married.  Their plans were to stake their claim to a free life somewhere in the wilderness of Alaska.  They only made it to the vast plains of Montana. 

     The Greyhound Bus pulled into a tiny one-horse town for a short rest-stop.  While inside the small store buying snacks, they noticed a help wanted sign offering employment for ranch hands.  Within minutes they made the call and were hired.  Little did they realize that this tiniest of hamlets would become their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for years to come. 

     The match with the rancher and his dear wife must have been arranged in heaven.  Soon their childless employers took on the joys of surrogate parents.  This happy arrangement became even happier the following year when I was born.

     The rancher had a retired railroad boxcar which he used for storage.  It was soon converted into a home for me and my parents.  It sat about a hundred yards from the main house, and fifty or so from the barn.  After a few weeks of loving work and talented craftsmanship, that former utilitarian box looked nothing like its former self.  The final touch was the flower boxes under every window.  It was beautiful!

     I was seven when I met Alf.  

     Night skies in rural Montana are nothing like in Chicago or Miami.  Rural Montana has few sidewalks to ‘roll-up.’ Were it not for the stars above, night could be overpowering.  Instead, night time was illuminating.  The skies above became kaleidoscopes of heavenly light.

It was on such a beautiful star filled night that I first saw Alf.

     If he had a name, I’m sure it wasn’t Alf.  He couldn’t talk, not in a language I could understand anyway.  I called him Alf because that’s the first word that popped into my head when I first noticed his hairy body that night.

     I was laying on a small blanket on the ground, about midway between our house and the barn.  This area was near to where the woods encroached onto the property… and where I’d seen deer before.  I lay on my back watching the stars above while looking for shooting stars, and listening for the soft hoof steps of deer.  

     Instead of hoof steps, I heard instead the crack of a small branch.  I rolled over to face the sound.  It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the deeper darkness of the woods.  And then I noticed movement, and slowly sat up.

     Looking back now, perhaps it was because I was sitting, and not standing, that Alf didn’t over-react to my presence.  Perhaps he saw that I was not a threat.  Perhaps.     

     That first night we both just gazed at one another.  He stood.  I sat.  Silently.  How long we held that pose I don’t know, only this: it was for a very long time. Neither of us made a sound.  Neither of us moved.  It was a strange period of what could only be called bonding.  Far off in the distance a coyote howled.  Alf turned slowly, and walked away.

     I made it a practice, as often as I could, to spread my blanket on that same spot and lay there under the stars.  I did this three to four times a week.  And at least twice each week Alf would return.  For many weeks, we’d simply stare at one another silently.  

     And then one night, Alf raised a hand, and slowly and carefully began to move his fingers.  He was attempting to sign to me.  This happened for the next two or three times we met.  Then one night, I stood, and took a slow and nervous step toward him.  He responded by turning and walking away, not to return for many nights.  I took this as a sign to keep my distance.

     And so we continued our silent late night meetings.  We met this way for over four years, under the stars, separated by far more than simple distance.  I was never able to learn his sign language, yet I continued to feel from his countenance that he was trying to communicate only friendship and goodwill.  The last time I saw Alf was the night he brought his mate and baby to our meeting spot.

     The small duplicate of Alf was tiny, surely newborn.  Yet it too was covered with a thick coat of hair.  The mother, shorter than Alf, was stocky.  She cradled the infant in her arms, as it clung to one of her huge breasts.  

     Alf then made a sign using both of his large hands.  It was a sign one could not mistake.  He moved his hands to his eyes and slowly rubbed them in a rotating motion, as if crying.  Then he placed an arm around the female and led her and the child into the forest.

     I never saw Alf again.

     We lived on the ranch for six more years.  By then, a large ski resort had been built in the hills beyond the rancher’s spread.  Even Montana seemed to be changing, even shrinking.  It was beginning to lose the rich splendor of its summer’s nights.  My parents were older and wiser.  They saw that their cherished rainbow was fading.  We moved south to Georgia.  

I’ve often wondered how ‘Little Alf’ is doing.

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IF I COULD INVENT SOMETHING

A writing challenge of the Little Egypt Writer’s Society   65000_white_1 copy

© 2018 Bill Murphy

Wouldn’t you agree that most inventions are the result of someone attempting to make work easier… and by default, life easier?  Invention is the obvious spin-off of ‘work smarter – not harder.’

I received my inventive spirit from my father.  He loved to ‘tinker.‘  When I was around 10, dad saw a simple wind-turbine which inspired him to see other possibilities.

The turbine didn’t have traditional blades.  Instead, it had a series of 1/4 spheres, ‘cups’ which caught the wind.  Dad then remembered the loud screech which aircraft tires made when they hit the ground on landing… burning away expensive tires as they contacted the ground.  If the tires were already TURNING before the plane touched down, he reasoned, rubber would not be needlessly wasted.

Dad figured that if RUBBER quarter spheres were molded onto the outside edges of aircraft tires, the forward speed of the plane would make the tires spin before they touched the runway… a huge saving on tires!  Years later we learned that this was actually tested, but proved to be impractical.

Then during the mid to late 50s, I had an aviation idea of my own, one having to do with ‘winglets‘ for droppable fuel tanks. This too was tested in the late 50s.  Alas, it too proved to be impractical.  Oh well.

Fast forward to 2018.  Our nest is no longer empty.  We have a daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter ‘temporarily’ living with us.  What do they say about ‘too many cooks spoil the broth?’  This I know this for sure, too many cooks can really mess up a kitchen… and a microwave.

Our microwave is 4 or 5 years old.  With attention, it has been kept looking almost new. The number one labor saving device in our kitchen is a $2 microwave splatter shield… when used.  Simply USING IT is the key!  Verbal reminders don’t seem to get the job done. Even signage hasn’t always worked.  It is so frustrating… to me.

HERE’S MY IDEA FOR A MICROWAVE, TIME, AND SANITY SAVING INVENTION.

I’d love to have a splatter shield somehow electronically LINKED to the microwave, so that the microwave will operate only when the splatter shield is properly in place. Period.  No over-rides.  No shield = no cook.

Yes, I know, “But it only takes 2 or 3 minutes to wipe down the inside of the microwave. Big deal!”

But let’s face it… those who don’t have the will, energy, or 3 seconds of time to simply pick up the shield and use it… are NOT the one’s who feel a burning desire to roll up their sleeves and spend 2 to 3 minutes cleaning up a big splattered mess.

Now where did I put my soldering iron?

 

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IF I COULD GO BACK TO ANY AGE

Bill Plane

© 2017 Bill Murphy

This was the subject/topic of a writing assignment for my Little Egypt Writer’s Society.

 

That’s easy for me. I choose any time from early 1944 thru the end of August of 1947. Why those dates? Because I’d be old enough to appreciate what was going on in early ’44. And August of 47 was my last month as a pre-schooler. I realize that times were hellish in the Pacific and in Europe, but for me, on the blissful safety of Evergreen Street in South Jackson, those were wonderful times!

At first I considered that June 10, 1960 would be a good date in which to return. It would give me the opportunity to say “I don’t” instead of “I do.” That first marriage should not have happened anyway. Or should it?

You see, our relationships with others, no matter how subtle of insignificant, how good or how bad, how fleeting or lengthy, are quite meaningful in the grand scheme of things. And, even if we could, we really don’t want to change the past. We’d mess up the world if we did. Changing history would throw EVERYTHING off – off for good in some cases, off for bad in others.

Imaging this – Monday morning and you’re rushing off to work, and discover that you’ve misplaced your car keys. That 3 minute search throws you even later, so you drive just a tad faster that unusual. Across town, a woman is also late, due to a slow driver ahead. She cuts onto an unfamiliar side street, doesn’t notice a stop sign, and barrels through – right in front of you. It’s her fault, yet still she’s killed in the crash. Now she’ll not produce the child, who would someday become a research scientist, who would make that long sought breakthrough which eradicates cancer forever.

Maybe.

So instead, 30 years from the date you misplaced your car keys, we would still have cancer killing folks who would not have died if you hadn’t misplaced your car keys! Chilling thought!

But, you’re saying, if I could go back and avoid that accident – it would be a huge benefit to mankind! Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the other child this woman was not to have – would have been instrumental in starting WWIII!

If I had said, “I don’t” and walked away in 1960, I would have had 10 YEARS of some other life, giving me ample opportunity to miss meeting Helen Carol Ringer and saying, “I do” to her in 1970.

So you see, that street in June 1960 eventually crossed the one in May of 1970.

That said, I’d still enjoy returning to 1944-47 – but NOT ‘knowing what I know now.’ I wouldn’t want to return as a ‘visitor.’ No. I’d want to return and live it all over again as if I were living it for the first time, blissfully unaware of what was to happen next. If I did know then what I know now, I’d probably mess things up royally for the years ahead, both for me, and maybe for you also!

I certainly don’t want to mess up the world.

 

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The ‘Infamous’ GM&O Rebel

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When I was a small child, my mother’s older sister – known to the family simply as ‘Sister’ – lived in Bogalusa, Louisiana. Mom and I often visited her, riding the GM&O streamline passenger train THE REBEL. The Jackson, MS train station, now preserved as an historical site, was located just off Jefferson Street up the hill from the State Fair Grounds. The photo above is an earlier photo of the Rebel, when the GM&O was the GM&N. Notice the Old Capitol cupola behind the station. This was during the war years (WWII), so the train was always filled with soldiers, who according to Mom, ‘adopted’ me for the trip.

The Rebel was a unique train according to railroading history, a first of it’s kind. Up until the Rebel, built in 1935, all passenger trains in the US were ‘articulated.’ This means that each rail car SHARED a set of wheels between the cars. Individual passenger cars could not be uncoupled – none added or removed without serious work. The Rebel’s cars were built as are all passenger cars today, with wheel trucks on both ends.

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The Rebel also sported another ‘first’ for railroading – 5 airline-style HOSTESSES to cater to the needs of the passengers!

The Rebel was never know for its speed. The route from Jackson, TN to New Orleans, LA took 14 hours. Yes, this calculates to just under 35 miles per hour – but one must take into consideration the 55 STOPS it made along the way.

Speaking of stops – I remember one trip when we were traveling through typical rural southern countryside. The Rebel slowed down even slower. Looking out the window I saw an old woman waving something in her hand, as she trotted toward the tracks. The Rebel STOPPED and picked up her MAIL!

Being a railroad-minded child, I had my electric train. As a child’s toy, it simple went round and round an oval track. As a 3 and 4 year old, it greatly confused me that the Rebel LEFT the station heading RIGHT (south to Bogalusa) and RETURNED us to the station in Jackson heading LEFT. How did it turn around?

My mother loved to tell the (true) story of one return trip. I must have been no more than 3 at the time. She said that I refused to leave the station – until she led me up to the front of the train, where I could KISS the Rebel good-bye! Such has always been my fondness for trains!

The next time you’re in a bookstore, look for a book on American Railroading. You’ll find the Burlington’s Zephyr, Boston & Maine’s Flying Yankee, Illinois Central’s Green Diamond, and Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha. Chances are you won’t find the Rebel – or if you do – only a scant mention. That unfairness always puzzled me. A few years ago, the sad reason for this slight came to light.

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Unlike all the other glorious passenger trains of it’s day – the Rebel was designed and built for racial SEGREGATION! A schematic of a typical Rebel car, seen below, clearly reveals this. The smaller black section to the left has it’s own men’s and women’s restrooms – as does the larger white section to the right. (Schematic redrawn from an illustration in the GM&OHS NEWS).

Little 3 year old white boys in the early 1940s had no comprehension of this disparity. Therefore my memories of the Rebel are all beautifully positive – of happy times riding the rails – traveling to Bogalusa (a paper mill town) to visit my cherished aunt. And because of these trips, I still have a fondness for the sweet smell (to me) of a good ole paper mill. Ah, those were the days my friend!

 


This post is in response to the Daily Post Challenge.

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