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Grinding the Night Away

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I went to our Homecoming dance with a girl friend. She wasn’t a girlfriend, just someone who happened to be a girl. Nobody is allowed to go by himself or even with another guy, no matter what kind of friends you are. You have to have a date to go to Homecoming. The dance was at St. Mel’s in the main gym the night after we smashed out a win over Moeller’s, the Fighting Crusaders.

The Crusaders slouched back to Cincinnati and afterwards we called them the Sad Taters. St. Mel’s takes no prisoners on the football field. No, SIR!

My dad worked the refreshment table at the dance. He’s a member of the Father’s Club. It was awesome for my friends and me. We had a boat load of free drinks, for sure.

Homecoming was the night Jake and Jess broke up. It isn’t the kind if thing that usually happens at Homecoming, but that’s what happened. It started when I saw Bert making out with Jake’s girlfriend. They were dancing and the next thing anybody knew they started kissing, right on the dance floor. When you’re somebody else’s girlfriend that’s rude and inconsiderate.

Allan and I both saw it happening. Allan is one of my best friends. He’s a football player, not much taller than me, but he’s 250 pounds. He’s a lineman on the team, although he had to sit out after he got a concussion. He’s a white kid and pretty pasty, which isn’t pretty.

We all saw Bert kiss Jess as plain as day. Allan walked right up to Bert. He was angry.

“Bert, what the fuck, what are you doing?”

Bert plays soccer, is taller than me, but he’s a toothpick. He’s sort of ugly, too.

He was really scared for a second.

“I was, like…” he stuttered.

Allan was angry about it and I wasn’t happy, either. Allan faced Bert down, who started backing away. I stood there for a few seconds and then ran to find Jake. I didn’t want to leave him hanging. Hanging for what? I had to tell him. Bro’s before ho’s. That’s what a brother does. Everybody says so. She was obviously that if she was kissing another man.

Jess is short, skinny, and blonde. She’s sort of pretty. I might even have liked her once. She had been to my house for dinner, with Jake, one night when Allan and Paul were over.

Jake was outside getting a drink at the refreshment table when I found him. There was Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. He was picking up a can of Sprite. The can looked big in his hand. Jake is almost a midget. I’m on the short side, but he’s shorter than me, by a long shot.

“Jake, Jess kissed Bert,” I said.

“Are you kidding me?” he asked.

“No dude, I’m sorry, but it’s true.“

He was sad at first, and depressed, that he had just lost his girl. “I’m going to talk to her about this.”

“I’m sorry, dude,” I said. He was sad and really down. Then he jumped her on the spot, surprising everybody.

“Yeah, gangster,” I thought out loud.

“Thanks a lot,” he said, all sarcastic, and then said something to her nobody else could hear.

“We’re done,” he said, flashing his thumb and finger and walking away. He dumped her on the spot. Her jaw dropped. She was left standing there. Jake wasn’t blue the rest of the night. He had only been going out with Jess for less than a month, anyway.

I was grinding in the mosh pit later when a girl threw up all over the floor because she was totally wasted. Someone slipped on the mess and fell down, hitting his head and getting puke on his clothes. He smelled like beef liver with onions in a can after that.

Everybody merks their crap load of beer and booze before the dance. It used to be weed, but this last summer the school principal’s brother got a sweet contract for himself to drug test us, so now it’s drinking instead of drugs. At least it is during the school year. It doesn’t even do any good to shave your head, because they snatch a different kind of hair from you, and the test works exactly the same way.

“Maybe I’ll just do LSD,” DB said, spinning his head in fast, tight circles.

They don’t test for LSD because they have to get your pee, not just your hair, to do that. The St. Mel’s men would start peeing on each other. It’s too expensive, anyway. Our military even stopped testing for it because it costs so much.

I don’t drink much of anything, nor do my friends, but that doesn’t mean anything. If it weren’t such a big deal to drink or not to drink guys wouldn’t do it so much.

HONEST to GOD!

It’s mostly about being rebellious. They think it’s cool and makes them be cool. If guys could drink whatever they wanted they wouldn’t do it as much. Honestly, they just wouldn’t, since the temptation would be all gone. But, that’s the exact thing, because they’re doing something forbidden, it makes them feel SO MUCH cooler.

Drugs, smoking, and drinking at Homecoming are a tradition. Oh, yeah, I can feel it and smell it when I’m in the mosh pit. When you’re in the pit it’s pushy, noisy, and hot. It’s sweaty and the odor is bad, like armpits and hot dog water. You dance and grind in the pit and have fun. There are a thousand guys and girls all pushed in together and the teachers are stuck on the outside.

Not everyone crams into the mosh pit, but a large crowd does, for sure. There’s a stage at the front of the gym and everybody swirls it, surging tight, and facing whichever which way. We dance to slow songs, rock, techno, whatever. The best are Skrillex, Kid Cudi, and M & M. I love ‘Stairway to Heaven’, except I hate it at summer camp, where Stupidhead plays it every night on his guitar in our cabin. There’s another song, ‘White Roses’, or something like that, I’m high on for slow dancing.

Nobody’s brains are guaranteed in the pit. Everybody goes to the pit to have fun, that’s all. The girls like it. That works for me. We all get going get amped get excited in the pit. No one can help it. Grinding is the greatest when you’re rubbing up against some girl to Lady Gaga’s ‘Disco Stick’. You don’t even have to look them in the face since most of the time it’s from behind.

The parents don’t know the grinding that goes on. Girls put their butts on you and figure eight. It’s like doing it with your clothes on. Sometimes we form lines, forty or fifty of us in a line grinding on each other. Nobody’s parents want to know about that.

NO WAY! BELIEVE ME!

You can get in trouble for grinding. All the teachers are there and they watch out for it. They call it pelvic thrust dancing, or at least Mr. Rote does, who’s got a sharp eye for it. There’s a rule that you can get kicked out of the dance for doing it, but none of the teachers can ever get into the mosh pit, so hardly anybody ever gets caught.

They will mark your hand with a Sharpie if they do catch you, and if they catch you a second time, they kick you out of the dance. Guys go all crazy, all sweaty and flustered, trying to rub the indelible Sharpie mark off as fast as they can.

Not many guys got kicked out of theHomecoming dance, but Allan’s older brother did. It was funny to everybody, although he wasn’t laughing. Girls don’t get kicked out because it’s at our school. Just the guys get the boot. I saw a couple of them being dragged from the pit and kicked out of the gym. The Dean of Students had their cell phones and was looking through all their messages.

St. Mel’s is a private school. They aren’t funded by the state. They don’t have to stick to the state rules like the public schools. They can’t hit you, but they can, if they want to. If a teacher hit me I would be very, VERY upset, but they can do just about anything.

THEY CAN DO WHAT THEY WANT!

They can look through your phone and anything else of yours. They can drag you away. I don’t even know all the stuff they can do.

They can kick you out of school, for sure. If you do something bad it becomes Steck Time, the Dean of Students, who is a very mean man. He can say, “Don’t come back tomorrow.” When Mr. Steck-It-To-You says it he means it and he can make it stick. Because it’s a private school they can lock you out and you can’t ever go back. And then you’re out, that’s all. I’ve heard of some kids who got thrown out once-and-for-all for good.

You’ve got to be careful.

They won’t kick you out of school for grinding. You have to get caught stealing computers, or smoking weed, or something like that. Not always, though, since it depends. There’s a guy’s father who owns a jewelry store in Rocky River, and his son got caught smoking weed on campus, but he didn’t get kicked out. The diamond man talked to the Dean, somebody probably got a karat, and after the deal was done the guy might still have gotten thrown out, but didn’t, obviously.

It wasn’t even close.

The girls at our dances sometimes come from some public schools, but mostly from St. Joe’s, Magnificat, and the other Catholic schools. Are good Catholic girls the same as good girls? Are you pooping on my face? God, no, they’re not good! That’s why we’re all grinding at the dances.

There isn’t much difference between a Catholic girl and a public school girl. Sometimes it seems like Catholic girls are even worse than regular bad girls. They can go to extremes, like wanting a guy more than regular girls do. They just want to have boyfriends. They want to have somebody, anybody, they can say is their boyfriend, someone to be on their hip side. They are thirsty for guys.

They’re thirsty and need to be quenched.

The Catholic girls aren’t even that hot, at least not usually. There are more hotter public school girls than Catholic girls. Some of the Catholic girls even think they are better than other peeps, which is rude, and mostly mistaken.

Many of them seem to think they are on a totally upper level over other girls. They absolutely believe their status is higher, which I think is ridiculous. They truly think they are better than other people, at least better than public school girls, for sure.

I have some good friends who go to Mag’s, but St. Joe’s, no. St. Joe’s girls are Catholic girls all out. They are ever not so nice.

If you are hanging out with public school girls, or Catholic girls, and the other side walks up, it tends to be that public school girls are nicer. They are like your friends right out of the box and they are nicer to you, too. The Catholic girls are kind of low and frank. The public school girls are nicer, asking what your name is, and being interested in you. Catholic girls are like, “Oh, hi, WHO are you? I have to GO.”

You can tell they don’t care.

The only time they CARE is when they’re GRINDING, but that’s a TOTALLY different kind of caring.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

 

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My Two Best Friends

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When I met Wayne Biddell, he had two bum knees, although they were the least of his problems. He had been a Cleveland Police Department detective for fifteen years, and a uniformed officer before that. He once told me in all that time he had only drawn his service handgun three times, and never fired it.

He had bad knees from playing handball at the downtown YMCA.

“I probably never should have played that game, but I loved it, although it and my job cost me my legs and my marriage,” he said.

I met Wayne after my marriage fell apart and I lost my house, which was a lot like what happened to Wayne. We met on the grassy courtyard of the apartment complex on East 222nd Street in Euclid, where we both lived, when I saw him messing around with his golf clubs on a warm dry spring day. He was retired and lived alone.

I wasn’t retired, not exactly, but I lived alone, too.

We played golf together for the next three years. He was the best friend I ever had, even more than Mattie Haylor, even though Mattie ended up doing more for me later on. Wayne did many things I never even asked him to do. After I moved to Lakewood, he got me a car, convincing his lady friend to give me the old Ford she had been planning on trading in when she got her new car, and later mailing me a check for five hundred dollars, to live on, knowing I was broke.

It wasn’t his fault the Ford’s transmission blew out and my son-in-law wouldn’t lend me the money to get it repaired.

“Fixing it will cost more than the car is worth,” he said. “You’re better off scrapping it.”

I knew he was right, but I knew he didn’t want to lend me a cent, anyway.

I junked the Ford and got a hundred bucks for it.

I had to walk to the Lakewood Library and McDonald’s, the grocery and the bus stop that winter, the winter Wayne blew his head off, and all the next spring until Mattie died and left me a hundred thousand dollars, after all was said and done and the trust sold his house, and I was able to buy a new car.

When my wife Mary walked out on me, and took all the money out of our joint accounts, and cashed in our insurance policies, and swooped up the kids, and talked me into taking a second mortgage out on our house so she and her boyfriend could open a restaurant, which failed inside of two years, and Chamber Bearings went bankrupt, putting me out of the only work I had ever done since getting shipped home from the Korean War with a Purple Heart, was when I played more golf than I ever had played in my life, and waited to be thrown out of my house.

When I finally moved out of Indian Hills, down the hill to Euclid, I was in my late 50s. I was holding on, waiting to get to 62, so I could get on Social Security early. I needed the money. When I worked for Chamber Bearings, they gave me a new car every year, and I had an expense account no one ever questioned, and was in line to be made a vice-president, up to the day the family business closed their doors without a word of warning to me. There were years when I almost always had a thousand dollars, or more, in cash in my pockets every day.

Those days were gone.

When I moved to Euclid I moved into a free apartment, an apartment that Angelo, the maintenance man at the apartment complex, who I met through Stan, a Polack I often had breakfast with at the railroad car diner on Green Road, not far from the giant Fisher Body and TRW plants, got for me when I got hired to be his helper.

Stan and I talked all the time over cups of coffee. We got to be good friends. He was a hell of a bowler. He was so good he bowled in tournaments, and I went to a couple of them to watch him. It was a hop, skip, and a glide to the line. He was always pounding out strikes.

Angelo was a Korean War veteran, like me. He talked the Jewish guy who was the boss, who owned the apartment complex, into hiring me. Jews run the country. They run the money, which means they run everything else, too. They own most of the gold in the world. They marry inside the family, keeping it all together for themselves.

I shoveled snow, did some of the gardening, and vacuumed the hallways. I cleaned apartments when they went vacant, and got paid extra whenever I had to clean kitchens, scrubbing the stove and emptying out the fridge, throwing away rotten food. I made a few bucks here and there. I kept my head above water.

The apartment complex had been built during World War Two for government workers. It was sturdy like a fort. The brown brick buildings were three stories with garages in the back. Fox Avenue intersected the complex and ran all the way to Babbitt Avenue, where there was a golf course. Wayne and I would shuttle to it on good days, getting in eighteen holes.

Wayne worked part-time at night, in a booth selling betting slips at the Thistledown horseracing track in North Randall. He was on his own during the day, which was how he and I were able to go golfing together whenever I was free. We even went to tournaments, to watch the professionals. Stan went with us once, but he wasn’t used to walking that much, and got tired.

After I lost my car Wayne always drove. He had gotten a new Mercury four-door sedan. He loved that car and talked his lady friend into getting one, too. That was how I got her old Ford.

When I moved to Lakewood, on the west side, to a small apartment across the street from St. Ed’s High School, Wayne visited me a few times, even though he didn’t like my apartment or the building. “It’s a dump,” he said. I took him to Joe’s Diner. I could tell he was suffering. He had prostate cancer and was hurting bad. It was just a matter of time.

I called him on Christmas Eve and wished him happy holidays. He didn’t sound good, but he didn’t sound bad, either. At least, that’s what I thought. I was dead wrong.

Wayne’s son was at Miami University. He had tried out for the football team as a walk-on and made the cut. He was a hell of an athlete and was their back-up quarterback. He drove up to Euclid to see his dad on Christmas. Wayne told him about his new car.

“Take my car and give it a little ride,” he said. “I haven’t driven it for a while. It needs to be out on the road.”

His son got the car and drove it up and down Lakeshore Boulevard. It had snowed overnight, but not much, and what snow there was had been plowed to the side. When he got back, he found his father in bed. Wayne had put a pillow over his head and a gun in his mouth. It was the first and last time he ever shot a gun at a human being.

After the funeral I walked around Lakewood until summer, until Mattie, my golfing buddy for many years, who was in his 80s, got sick. He was taken to Fairview Hospital, and when there wasn’t anything more they could do, he was moved to the Welsh Home in Rocky River.

Mattie was a great guy and great friend of mine, my other best friend for a long time. He was on our golf team in the Cleveland Metropolitan Golf Association. We had about ninety members and most of us were friends. We played golf until it was too wet and cold to walk the courses. After that, any of us who could afford it went on vacations west or south to play. I had traveled to sunny places to play golf many times, when I was married and even afterwards, until I couldn’t afford to go far anymore.

When Mattie passed away in his sleep, a month-or so after his funeral I got a letter from a lawyer saying I was included in his will. He had left me his house. It surprised me, but didn’t surprise me. I was the only person who ever listened to what he had to say, who stuck around when he got quiet, who waited to talk about something else he was bound to remember sooner or later. The house was sold and I got a check for a hundred grand.

I was always a good friend with different people, including Wayne and Mattie, who were my two best friends. It’s good to be best friends with your best friends. I bought a new car, paying cash for it. I paid off all my credit card debt, the credit cards I had been living on, and bought a new laptop computer, so I didn’t always have to go to the library to work on my schemes.

My ship is coming in one day. When it does, I’ll dump the Chevy in the blink of an eye and get an Audi convertible.  I’ll go to Florida every winter.

I bought some new shirts and shoes and ate better. After squirreling the rest of Mattie’s money away I was in good shape. I played golf all summer at some new courses. I went to both Wayne’s and Mattie’s graves once and paid my respects.

I made some new best friends.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

Six Oysters Ahoy

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“He was a very valiant man who first adventured on the eating of oysters.”  King James VI and I

“I checked the weather report,” said Frank Glass.

“What did you find out?” asked Vera Glass.

“It’s going to be the same today as it was yesterday.”

“Is it going to rain all day?” asked Vera.

“You don’t need a weatherman for that,” said Frank, throwing a glance at the window.

A steady rain was falling outside the large front window of the cottage, down on the long sloping lawn of the Coastline Cottages, on the Gulf Shore Parkway, on the three houses on the other side of the road, and out to the horizon as far as they could see. The sky was dark over Doyle’s Cove. Broad surfboard-sized waves worked up the water. When Frank looked out the northwest-facing kitchen window, the sky, where the weather was coming from, was even darker.

“What should we do? It rained all day yesterday. I’m getting cabin fever.”

“We could play cards, read, and talk among ourselves. How about dinner and a show?”

“That sounds good, especially the part about dinner,” said Vera. “Where do you want to eat?”

“There’s a show opening tonight at the Victoria Theatre.”

“All right, but what about dinner?”

“We could eat at the Landmark, it’s right there.”

“I’ve always liked the Landmark,” said Vera. “Eugene is a great cook. They have the best meat pies.”

“Somebody told me he sold it and there are new owners,” said Frank.

“What? How can that be? Eugene and Olivier and Rachel are gone?”

The Sauve family tree had repurposed an old grocery store in Victoria into a café restaurant in the late 1980s, adding a deck, digging a basement for storage and coolers, and expanding their dining space several times. They were a perennial ‘Best Place to Eat on Prince Edward Island’ in the magazine Canadian Living.

“It’s now called the Landmark Oyster House.”

“I love oysters,” said Vera. “Let’s go.”

It was still raining when Frank and Vera drove up Church Hill Road and swung onto Route 6, through North Rustico to Route 13, through Hunter River and Kelly’s Cross. It was still raining when they pulled into the small seaside town of Victoria on the other side of Prince Edward Island, on the Northumberland Straight side, 45 minutes later. It rained on them as they rushed into the Landmark Oyster House.

There wasn’t a table to be had, but there were two seats at the bar.

“Look, we’re right in front of the oysters,” said Vera, as they sat down at the closed end of it. “I love this spot.”

Kieran Goodwin, the bartender, agreed, standing on the other side of the bar, on the other side of a large shallow stainless steel bin full of raw oysters on ice.

“Best seats in the house,” he said. “They were going to put the bar in the front room, but the dimensions didn’t work out.”

“Who’s they?” asked Frank.

Vera looked the chalkboard on the wall up and down. The names of the oysters on ice were written on the board. There were six of them, Valley Pearl, Sand Dune, Shipwreck, Blackberry Point, Lucky Limes, and Dukes. She looked down into the bin. She couldn’t make heads or tails of which were which. She knew raw oysters were alive, more-or-less.

She wondered, how could you tell?

“Greg and Marly Anderson,” said Kieran. “They own a wedding venue up the road.”  It is the Grand Victoria Wedding Events Venue, in a restored former 19th century church. “When this opportunity came up, when Eugene was looking to tone it down a bit, they decided to purchase it.”

“I worked at the Oyster House in Charlottetown shucking oysters for almost five years,” said Marly. “We heard that the family wanted to retire because they had been working at this restaurant for 29 years. We already felt a connection to this place and we are friends and neighbors with the family.”

“They’ve put their roots down in the community, are making their stand here,” said Kieran.

“I like what they’ve done in here, casual but upscale,” said Vera.

“It looks like the kitchen is more enclosed than it was,” observed Frank.

“Yeah, they did up a wall,” said Kieran. “When you used to walk in, you could peek right in.”

“I remember Eugene telling us once he learned all his cooking from his mom. Who does the cooking now?”

“Kaela Barnett is our chef.”

“We couldn’t do this without her,” said Greg Anderson.

Somebody’s got to have a steady hand on the ladle that stirs the soup.

“I’m thinking of doing oysters and a board,” said Vera.

“That’s a good choice,” said Kieran. “I recommend the large board. You get a bit of everything. I personally like getting some cheese.”

“Me, too.”

“Are you oyster connoisseurs?” asked Kieran.

“Not me,” said Frank. “I can’t remember the last time I ate an oyster.”

“I wish I was, but I love them,” said Vera. “We were on the island last year and went to the Merchantman in Charlottetown with Doug and Rachel, Eugene’s daughter. We had oysters and she went through all the ones we ate, explaining them to me.”

“Would you like something from the bar?” asked Kieran.

“I’ll take the Gahan on tap, the 1772 Pale Ale.”

“What wine goes with oysters?” asked Vera.

“We have a beautiful California chardonnay,” said Kieran. “It’s great with shellfish. I recommend it.”

“This is good, fruity,” said Vera, tasting it.

“We have six oysters,” said Kieran. “You could do one of each.”

“That’s what I’ll do,” said Vera.

“I think I’ll have the seafood chowder and some of the board,” said Frank.

“Oh, Frank, try one,” said Vera.

“Lucky Limes are my favorite,” said Kieran. “It’s a good medium oyster.”

“OK, I’ll try it,” said Frank, shrugging.

Kieran handed him a Lucky Lime.

“How do I eat this thing?” Frank asked Vera.

“Sometimes I chew it, sometimes I don’t,” she said.

“Some people like putting stuff on it, like horseradish, which kills the taste,” said Kieran. “But straight up is best. That’s how islanders do it, just shuck it.”

Frank looked down at the liquid-filled half shell.

“From the wide end,” said Kieran.

He slurped the oyster into his mouth and swallowed it.

“Now you’re a pro,” said Vera.

“That wasn’t bad,” said Frank. “How could you tell it was a Lucky Lime? They all look the same to me.”

“If you look at the chalkboard, it’s one through six. That’s one way.”

“Can you tell by looking at them?” asked Vera.

“I can tell by the shell,” said Kieran. “The ones that are more green, that means there’s more saltwater content. So this is a Sand Dune, quite briny. That one is almost straight salt water.” He pointed to an even darker greener shell.

“The Shipwreck, the name made me nervous to have it, but it was mild,” said Vera.

“It would be farther up the estuary, closer to fresh water.”

“Blackberry Point was very salty.”

“The Blackberry’s are from Malpeque, which is near Cavendish,” said Kieran. “The Sand Dune is from Surrey, down east, and the Lucky Limes are from New London Bay. Valley Pearl is from Tyne Valley and the Dukes are from Ten Mile Creek.”

“I thought you were just making all this up,” said Frank.

“No, its like wine,” said Kieran.

“How did you get into the shellfish racket?” asked Frank.

“I graduated in business, traveled, lived in New Zealand and Australia, and then came back home, and worked in a bank as a financial advisor for six years, in Summerside and Charlottetown, but then I just got tired of working in a bank, and went back to school.”

“How did you find your way here, behind the bar?”

“I date Jamie, who is Marly’s sister.”

“Are those pickled carrots?” asked Vera, pointing at the charcuterie board in front of her.

“Yes, and you have raisin jam, too,” said Kieran.

“Chutney, stop the madness!” exclaimed Vera. “Oh, it’s strawberry jam. It just looks like chutney. It’s delicious.”

“We had raisin pie at a small diner in Hunter River the other day,” said Frank.

“The one by the side of the road, up from the Irving gas station?” asked Kieran.

“That’s the one,” said Frank. “The waitress told us she always thinks of raisin pie as funeral pie, because back in the day, if there was a funeral in the winter, women always made raisin pies for the reception after the memorial service, because raisins kept all year round.”

“Can I take my oyster shells with me?” asked Vera.

“Sure,” said Kieran. ”We can get a little bag for you.”

“You can really taste the sea eating oysters,” said Vera. “Blackberry Point was a little thin and too salty, but once you eat one, and you don’t like it, whoa, what are you going to do? Valley Pearl didn’t have a lot of flavor, but there was some good texture to it. Lucky Lime was very good. My favorite was Sand Dune. It had a strong ocean flavor, briny.”

“I’ve heard people say oysters are slimy, but the one I had, it didn’t seem that way,” said Frank. “I can see having oysters again.”

“Don’t people sometimes say the world is your oyster?” said Vera.

“Do you want dessert?” asked Kieran.

“Do you have carrot cake?”

“It’s made here.”

“We’ll split a slice of that, and two coffees, thanks.”

As Vera and Frank dug into their carrot cake, there was a commotion at the other end of the bar. Kieran, Jamie, and Marly were huddling over glowing screens.

“Did your electronics go haywire?” asked Frank when Kieran brought them coffee.

“The microwave in the basement tripped the breaker. We hardly ever use it, except to melt butter sometimes. It’s weird, it’s been working until now. We have a thing that magnifies our wi-fi signal. We just found out it’s on the same circuit.”

“My mother was a pastry chef,” said Vera. ”She didn’t use microwaves much, but whenever she did, she always said, ‘I’m going to nuke it now!’”

Frank and Vera used their forks on the last crumbs of their cake and finished their coffee. Frank checked the time on his iPhone. “Time to go, sweetheart,” he said. They paid the bill and stood to go.

“Enjoy the show, hope to see you again,” Kieran said as Frank and Vera walked out of the Oyster House.

“It’s raining and sunny at the same time,” said Frank as they dashed across the street to the Victoria Theatre, yellow slanting sunlight leading the way.

“That’s PEI for you,” said Vera. “By the way, what are we seeing?”

“Where You Are.”

“I know where we are,” said Vera.

“That’s the name of the show,” said Frank.

“Aha, I see,” said Vera.

“Hustle it up, we’re almost late.”

They went up the steps into the theater, got their programs, and sat down. Vera tucked the bag of shells under her seat. “Wherever you are, there you are, oyster boys and girls,” she thought, making sure they were safe and sound.

“How could you even tell?” she wondered, as the lights went down and the show started.

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

Chips on the Spaldeen

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“It’s really a good day for it,” said Dwight Eisenhower, smiling broadly.

It was going to be his first full round of golf since June. He’d had a heart attack last year. Then when summer rounded itself into shape, he needed surgery for ileitis. The past week had been filled to the brim with the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Even though he had been unopposed, no need for a stampede, there had been some hard campaigning to drop Dick Nixon from the ticket, to no avail.

Ike was president because it was his duty. Richard Nixon wanted to be president. He wanted it for himself.

“Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy,” thought President Eisenhower.

The Negro singer Nat King Cole had spoken at the Cow Palace yesterday, the last day of the convention, to some jeers. Ike made it happen, no matter the carping about it. He knew he had to give in on the Vice-President, who was a hard-line anti-Communist, who the rank-and-file supported with cheers. But he knew he didn’t have to give in to Jim Crow. He could take the high road and leave the contrivances to Tricky Dick.

They drove up to Pebble Beach before the convention ended, before the Nixon’s could invite him to dinner. Richard Nixon’s father was seriously ill, besides, and Ike urged him to go before it was too late. There were three cars full of Secret Service fore and aft. Charlie Taylor, who’d been at it for years, was in one of the cars.

One night when Ike was having trouble opening his safe, and asked for help, his agents told him safecracking wasn’t part of their training. Ike was beside himself until Charlie Taylor got the cranky combination to give with no problem.

“I won’t know whether to trust you, or not, after this,” said Ike, glancing at Charlie.

He was driven to his golf outing in a black Lincoln Cosmopolitan. It was one of ten presidential touring cars. They all had extra headroom to accommodate the tall silk hat he wore on formal occasions. The cars were almost 20 feet long, V8’s with Hydra-Matic transmissions, and heavily armored, weighing in at close to ten thousand pounds. One of them was a convertible, a 1950 model built for Harry Truman. It had been fitted with a Plexiglas top since then.

Ike called it the Bubble-top. Charlie Taylor called it a pain-in-the-ass. Mamie didn’t like sitting under a dome, but she put up with it.

It was a high blue sky day, sunny, dotted with seaside clouds.

“It’s a pleasure, Mr. President,” said Turk Archdeacon, his caddy.

“Why, that’s fine,” said President Eisenhower.

Turk had been caddying at Cypress Point since he was nine-years-old, almost 40 years since. He and Ike walked to the practice tee. It was a cool morning. Ike started whacking balls out into the distance. He played with Bobby Jones woods with the official five-star general insignia engraved on the heads. At the putting green he lined up three balls down on the ground 20-some feet away from the cup.

He sank all three.

“I should quit right there,” he laughed.

He’d been practicing on a green on the White House grounds, and been hitting wedges, irons, and 3-woods, sometimes hitting balls over the south fence. Whenever he did, he sent his valet to retrieve them.

The squirrels that prowled the lawn dug up his putting green, burying acorns nuts hardtack. They left small craters behind. One morning he finally had enough. “The next time you see one of those goddamned squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!” The Secret Service asked the groundskeepers to trap the squirrels, instead, and release them in a park somewhere far away.

In a week August would be come and gone.  He would be 66-years-old soon.  “I’m saving that rocker for the day when I feel as old as I really am,” he said, pointing to the rocker in the Oval Office. More days now than not, he felt like that day was drawing close.

His birthday was on October 14th. CBS was planning a “Person to Person” style TV show the night before. Eddie Fisher was going to sing ‘Counting Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.’  Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel were going to sing ‘Down Among the Sheltering Palms.’ Nat King Cole, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, was singing ‘It’s Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet.’

He was looking forward to it.

In six weeks he would be throwing out the first pitch for the first game of the World Series. There were five or six teams in the hunt, although the New York Yankees looked like a lock at least to get there. If he were a betting man, which he was, he would be putting his money on the Bronx Bombers.

He liked Cypress Point because it was set in coastal dunes, wandered into the Del Monte forest during the front nine, and then reemerged on the rocky Pacific coastline. The 15th, 16th, and 17th holes played right along the ocean. He’d played golf on many courses around the world.

This was one of the best of them.

On the other coast it was hot and humid in Hell’s Kitchen. It was in the 90s and stagnant. The heat was trapping the humidity in the air. Dottie was playing stickball in the street.

The street wasn’t West 56th.  Her father had told her to never play stickball on their own street. The fronts and windows of buildings were ruled home runs. Stan didn’t want any broken windows near where they lived. Dottie and her friends always played on West 55th or West 57th.  A boy bigger than her had once teased her about it, pushing her to the ground.

“You always do everything your old man tells you to do?” he said, curling his lip, looking down and straddling her.

She still had the stickball broom handle in her hands. Looking up from the gutter she whacked him as hard as she could across the shins. When the boy’s father showed up at their apartment that night to complain, her father threw the man out, dragging him down the stairs by his collar, threatening him and his son and any of their neighbors with harm if they ever laid hands on his daughter again.

“You did the right thing Dottie,” he said. “If somebody says something rotten to you, be a lady about it. But if somebody pushes you, or grabs you, or hits you, you hit them back as hard as you can. You always do that. That’s so they won’t push you down again.”

“OK, dad,” she said.

It was a good day for stickball. Eight kids had shown up, they had made their teams, and Willy, her friend from Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School, had brought a new pinky ball. It wasn’t a Pensy, either. It was the cream of the crop, a Spalding Hi-Bounce.

“Spaldeen!”

They drew a square rectangle with chalk on the brick wall at the back of a vacant lot on West 55th to represent the strike zone. The buildings on both sides were the foul lines. They chalked first and third base on the building walls and second base was a manhole on the sidewalk. If the ball hit any of the buildings across the street, it was a home run. If it hit a window they would run like hell. If it hit a roof it was a home run-and-a-half.

“There ain’t no runs-and-a-half,” a snot-nosed kid from Chelsea, visiting his cousins, sneered.

“If you’re going to play stickball on West 55th, you better learn Hell’s Kitchen rules,” gibed Willy.

Dottie was batter up. She smacked a hot grounder, but it was caught on the first bounce, and she was out. Willy got as far as third base, but three strikes and you’re out finished their inning. By the time they came back up in the second inning they were behind by five runs.

Dwight Eisenhower looked out at the par-5 10th hole. He had taken off his tan sweater, but still had a white cap on his head. Seven months ago Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, living legend professionals, had taken on Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, amateurs, but talented and skillful, in a friendly foursome at Cypress Point.

The same 10th hole turned out to be the key to unlocking the contest.

“I bet they can beat anybody,” said San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery about the two amateurs, who were his employees. He was talking to fellow millionaire George Coleman. The bet and the match were on.

Harvie Ward was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion. Three months later Ken Venturi came within one stroke of winning the Masters. The cypress-strewn rolling dunes of the course on the wind-swept coast, the deep ravines, knee-deep grass, sand on all sides of the fairways, weren’t redoubtable, not to them.

Ben Hogan won the day on the 10th when he rolled in a wedge shot for a 3. The eagle and 27 birdies testified to the unfriendliness of the match. The drinks at the bar rubber-stamped the camaraderie afterwards.

Ike was playing with Harry Hunt, the president of Cypress Point, Sam Morse, a one-time football star who had developed Pebble Beach, and John McCone, a businessman who had been the undersecretary of the Air Force. Dwight Eisenhower was partnered with Harry Hunt. They were playing a dollar-dollar-dollar Nassau bet. It was even-steven at the halfway mark, even though Ike had stunk up the 8th hole.

“Where is it?” he had asked getting there, looking for the green across the dogleg.

He sliced his tee shot into sand. When he got to it he hit it less than ten feet further on. Then he hit it fat, the Ben Hogan ball soaring twenty feet, and falling into somebody’s heel print.

“I’ve had it, pick it up,” he said.

“Having a little trouble?” asked Sam Morse.

“Not a little,” said Ike, “but a lot.”

“All right, all right, let’s pick it up, let’s get some roofies,” yelled Willy, urging his team on. “But chips on the ball. I mean it.”

He meant that if his new Spaldeen was roofed, and couldn’t be found, everyone would chip in to pay for a new ball.

Hal came up to the plate, wagged the broom handle menacingly, and planted his high-top rubber-soled Keds firmly in the unravelling asphalt. They were new and felt like everyday’s-a-Saturday shoes. His batted ball hit the side wall at third base where the wall met the ground and bounced back to home plate in a high slow arc.

“It’s a Hindoo,” he shouted.

“No, that ain’t a do-over, foul ball, so it’s a strike,” shouted back Dave Carter, who everyone called Rusty because his hair was red.

“What do you know?”

“I know what I gotta know.”

“Go see where you gotta go,” said Hal.

“No, you stop wasting my time,” said Rusty. “It was a foul ball.”

“Ah, go play stoopball,” shouted Hal.

Stoopball was throwing a pinky against the steps of a stoop, and then catching it, either on the fly or on a bounce. Catching the ball was worth 10 points. Catching a pointer on the fly was worth 100 points. A pointer was when the ball hit the edge of a step and flew back like a line drive, threatening to take your eye out. When you played stoopball you played against yourself.

“You got a lotta skeeve wichoo,” Rusty shouted back at Hal.

“All right, already, strike one,” said Willy, finally.

He knew Rusty would never give in. He was a weisenheimer, besides, someone you had to keep your eyes on, or your Spaldeen might grow legs. It wasn’t that Rusty was a thief. He just kept his nickels in his pocket. Willy had heard he was such a tight-wad he still had his communion money from two years ago.

Rusty had been born in Philadelphia. That was his problem.

Hal hit a cheap, a slow roller, but when Rusty let his guard down, reaching leisurely down for the Spaldeen, it went between his legs, and the next second Hal was standing at first base, smirking.

“Comeback stickball,” he whispered to himself.

Eleven batters later Dottie’s team was on the plus side of the scoreboard, nine to five.

On the tee of the 17th hole Ike lined up his shot. Sea lions on the rocks below him barked. “It’s hard to hit a shot and listen to those seals at the same time,” he said, but not so either of the Secret Service agents with them could hear him.

Dwight Eisenhower was accustomed to having guards around him, during the campaign in North Africa, and later as commander of the Allied Army in Europe. The Nazis had tried to kill him several times. Secret Service agents near his person nearly every minute of the day was like a second skin. He knew what it took to save his skin. When he moved into the White House he didn’t mingle mindlessly, shake hands in crowds, or do anything foolish.

“Protecting Ike works like clockwork,” said agent Gerald Blaine.

Mamie Eisenhower gave her agents nicknames. One, who was a good dancer, was “Twinkletoes.” He asked Mamie to keep it between themselves. Some of the agents called her “Mom.”

“You don’t have to worry about me, but don’t let anything happen to my grandchildren,” Ike told Secret Service chief U. E. Baughman.

The Diaper Detail guarded the four kids. Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the presidential retreat in Maryland from Shangri-La to Camp David in 1953. “Shangri-La is just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said. He renamed it in honor of his 5-year-old grandson, David.

When Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union leader, visited the retreat he said the name sounded like a place where “stray dogs were sent to die.”

Ike looked for the fairway on the 18th  hole.

“Where do we aim here?” he asked.

“Keep it away from the left,” said Harry Hunt. There was a stand of pine trees on the left. “That’s the Iron Curtain. You’ll never get through that stuff.”

Ike laughed and hit a long drive. His next shot was a 4-iron and he nailed it onto the green, 20 feet short of the pin.

In 1954 eighty people were convicted of threatening the president, and sent to prison or locked away as madmen. In 1955 nearly two thousand credible threats were made against Dwight Eisenhower’s life. The year before, the Russian KGB officer Peter Deryabin, after defecting, told the CIA about a plot to kill the president in 1952.

“We were preparing an operation to assassinate Eisenhower during his visit to Korea in order to create panic among the Americans and win the war in Korea.”

Shortly after Mother’s Day the Secret Service investigated a threat to plant two boxes of explosives at a baseball park where the president was planning on taking in a game. Whenever he played golf, stern-faced men with good eyesight and high-powered guns took up vantage points on hills, surveying the course with telescopic sights. Other agents, dressed in golf clothes, carried .351 rifles in their golf bags as they tagged along. In the parking lots the “Queen Mary,” an outfitted armored car, was the rolling command center.

“Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination,” Adolf Hitler had said not many years before. “This is the war of the future.”

Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Army derailed the Nazi night train. No one was going to take him by surprise. He was planning on sitting in his rocking chair one day, rocking back and forth, watching over his grandchildren.

The woman sitting on the stoop across the street watched Dottie and her friends walk away down the sidewalk, their stickball game over, one of them bouncing his pinky, all of them talking happily.

“We killed them, just killed them,” said Willy.

“We sure did,” said Hal.

“What a game!” said Dottie.

“Yeah, first we were down, came back big, you put some Chinese on that ball between Rusty’s legs, they slipped ahead, and then we score fourteen just like that, and it’s all over.”

“Did you see Rusty, the putz, pulling that long face?” asked Hal.

“Oh, he’ll be back, he loves stickball,” said Dottie.

Dwight Eisenhower had served in the armed forces from one end of his adult life to the other. After he retired he was dean at Columbia, and then president. He was still the president and, he was sure, he was going to defeat Adlai Stevenson better than he had four years ago.

Dottie was so glad her team had won.

Even though he’d commanded millions of men in the last war, Ike thought war was rarely worth going to war for. He hated it. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

They had scrapped for every run. It was worth it. She didn’t mind losing once in awhile, but she liked winning better.

“Didn’t you once say that we are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it?” asked Harry Hunt.

“When we have to, but always remember, the most terrible job in the world is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you’re on the battlefield. There‘s no glory in battle worth the blood it costs. When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it themselves.”

Dottie stripped off her hot sweaty clothes, rubbed down with a cool sponge, and put on a fresh pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

The Cold War wasn’t as hot as it had been ever since Nikita Khrushchev had denounced Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality earlier in the year, as well as admitting the Man of Steel’s crimes, the crimes committed against Mother Russia. A door had been cracked open. Ike had long thought war settles nothing, even when it’s all over. He was afraid of the arms race, the march towards a nuclear catastrophe.

“You just can’t have that kind of war,” he had told his inner circle. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.”

Dottie put her stick bat away in a corner near her bedroom window. In the summer she loved her friends, no matter what team they were on, and stickball more than anything in the world. She even liked Rusty a little bit when it was sunny and warm.

“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative” is what he had written and wanted to say at the Cow Palace, but didn’t, not with Dick Nixon and the Red Scare and the military hand-in-hand with industry. He wanted to call it what it was, a military-industrial complex that was always crying “fire” in a crowded theater.

But he couldn’t, at least not until after he was re-elected.

In the meantime, he planned on speaking softly and carrying a big stick, even if it was only a long shaft wood driver, the biggest club he had in his bag.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

Lights Out at the Lighthouse

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“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘till it’s gone.”  Joni Mitchell

Starting early in April, lights start coming back on in stores inns restaurants and businesses of all kinds on the Outer Cape. Hiring ramps up for cooks, waiters, waitresses, cashiers, retail associates, merchandisers, front desk agents, landscaping, cleaning services, and even at local airports parking and fueling aircraft.

Even though snowfall is uncommon on Cape Cod, whatever there is of it melts as the weather suddenly gets warmer. Purple-blue hyacinths and bright yellow daffodils start to open. In Wellfleet, where almost everything closes down for the winter, almost everything opens up again in the spring.

Except when it doesn’t.

Early in April Joe Wanco and his family, wife Laura and daughters Michelle and Jodie, made it known that their iconic Lighthouse Restaurant in a mid-19th century building in the middle of town on Main Street would not be opening for the season spring summer and fall.

“After many years, many employees, many building renovations, many blueberry muffins, pints of beer, and Boston sports championships, it has been decided it is in the best interest of the family that we no longer operate as a business. This is not a decision made overnight or without extensive consideration. Forty years is a long time and even longer in restaurant years.”

“Oh, man, this is sad,” said Molly MacGregor.

“This is worse than closing down Town Hall,” said Steve Curley.

“I want to scream, NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” screamed Heidi Gertsen-Scheck.

Forty years in the dining room trade is like four hundred in dog years. It’s a challenge. If you like falling pushing jumping off the deep end, watering holes are for you.

Even if your menu is coherent and priced appropriately, and the tables are set nice and neat, and the ambience is what your customers like, if the customer service goes sour, customers will remember. Even if management is on top of orders, sales goals, and labor costs, if they don’t notice nobody is asking for slimehead fillets, and don’t take it off the menu, they’re stuck with a freezer full of slimehead. Even if the grub is outstanding, the staff trained and ready to go, if you’re slow marketing your restaurant, you end up with a half-empty restaurant.

“You’ve had a great run,” said Jim Clarke, who owned the Lighthouse from 1968 to 1978. “I still have memories and nightmares from those years. I wish I had a nickel for all the muffins I made.”

The Lighthouse was a local seafood eatery, with arguably the best oyster stew between Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, a local sports bar and grill where the Patriots Red Sox Celtics ruled the roost on the flat screens, and a local dive bar with two dollar cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Cape Cod bands livening up the joint year after year.

“Main Street won’t be the same,” said Donna Adams McCaffery.

“You guys have been a bedrock of this community,” said Sam Greene.

“We started almost every vacation in Wellfleet at the Lighthouse, starting in 1989 when my now husband met my family there for our vacation-starting breakfast,” said Laura Kaspar Wardwell.

Six American presidents came and went, while another has been out to lunch, in the time since the Wanco’s landed on Main Street. Townspeople and tourists grew up with the Lighthouse. Some were born and had to find out for themselves.

“I grew up with stories about the Lighthouse before I even knew what it was,” said Amy St. John Ramsdell.

“Our five children grew up having breakfast at the Lighthouse every Sunday after mass,” said Jodi Lyn Deitsch-Malcynsky. “Your family was always inviting and gracious and fun! Our summers in Wellfleet will be forever changed.”

“I remember parking my bicycle out front and coming in for a Cherry Coke or hot chocolate,” said Matt Frazier, years before he became their trash hauler and recycler. “An extra special thank-you for always treating our crew with snacks and beverages during and after Oyster Festival.”

The menu wasn’t the biggest buffet catalogue in the world, and the prices weren’t an arm and a leg, even though the plates were chock-full, but the always hot food was more than good, often very good.

“The best scallops in the world, as good as Digby, Nova Scotia,” said a man from Boston. “What’s more to say?”

“I can’t say enough about the Cod Ruben,” said a man from Westfield. “They have a great selection of beer. The service is awesome.”

“They happened to have lobster dinners on a special, super fresh and tender,” said a woman from Worthington. “They were the best lobster dinners we had all summer.”

The Lighthouse was the only restaurant on the Outer Cape without a front door, two side doors, and plenty of windows to sit at and watch the world go by. “Here’s to missing the big picture,” one man said to another, sitting at the bar one September morning, over hearty breakfasts and Bloody Mary’s, their backs to the window. The bar sat about a dozen and the front room and side room tables sat forty or fifty. The floors are hardwood. There is a large skylight in the beamed tilted ceiling of the side dining room. It isn’t a small place, but it isn’t a big place, either.  It was always lively and got even more lively at night.

“When I was younger it was our breakfast place,” said John Denninger. “As I grew older it was my place to get a drink. When I decided to move here you made it feel like home. I could not have found a better place to hang out.”

A red and white replica of the red and white Nauset lighthouse sits straight and true on the flat roof of the front room. “The lighthouse does great service, yet it is the slave of those who trim the lamps,” observed the writer Alice Rollins. It doesn’t go looking for passing ships in the night. It just stands there with the big bright light on. Lighthouses are always lighthouses in somebody’s storm.

The Wanco’s came from northern New Jersey in the late 1970s. They partnered with a friend of theirs in the restaurant “to have their hand at a small business in a seaside town in an expression of their own American dream.”  Their partner retired ten years ago, but the Wanco’s kept the lights on, carrying on. “It left just our family to provide a watering hole, meeting place, warm meal, cold beer, loud music, local gossip, friendly banter, and a smiling face.”

Besides everything else, who wants to lose a smiling face?

“Ah, Jaysus,” said Jenifer Good. “It’s too much!”

Owning and operating a restaurant isn’t the same as going to work. It’s more like work. Many people start work by checking their e-mails. So do many restaurateurs. Many people check their e-mails all day. Most restaurateurs don’t. They don’t have time. There are too many other things to do.

After they’ve turned on the lights and checked their mail in the morning they do a walk-through of the restaurant, note what needs to be cleaned repaired replaced, start receiving orders, start food production, say hello to arriving cooks and staff, last minute scrambles because someone is sick hungover missing, breakfast service, take a break, lunch pre-shift, lunch service, move on to more food production, staff meal, dinner pre-shift, dinner service, clean up, wipe down, go over the day’s receipts, stay on top of staffing for tomorrow, and fit in balancing the checkbook, making payroll, checking inventory against reality, making a list of purveyors to talk to, and finally, turning off the lights.

All of this without swearing overly much at staff customers passersby loved ones.

Not that working at the Lighthouse wasn’t a happening, an exploit. “Working there was always an adventure,” said John Dwyer.

“My first waitressing job 40 years ago,” said Gina Menza. “I was terrible, but you kept me on. Some crazy memories living upstairs, sitting on the roof to watch the parade, and sneaking into the drive-in rolled up in a carpet in the back of the van.”

“Living in the upstairs apartment to working at the Lighthouse for my first job, smashing my head into the tables while running from the kitchen to the dining room, creamy dill salad and the best pickles on the planet, working down in the bakery, and years later to many post-shift beers,“ said Jacqueline Stagg.

“My most fun job,” said Kelly Moore. “Endless pre-games and endgames, situations, life lessons with Pill Bill, meltdowns, bike stealings and returnings, hurricane parties, skinny dipping team meetings, Wall of Shame, family breakfasts, jam sessions, chats with Thomas, high society, beer pong tournaments, roof top nights, off-season regulars, Mexican meltdowns with Slammo, and mista sista kissa.”

Communities are built around their city halls, schools, and businesses. Even though the Outer Cape is known for its guidebook attractions, sun and sand whale watching galleries seafood summer theater, Provincetown, the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and the National Seashore, its essence is in its smaller neighborhoods and places.

“They were the center beacon of our town,” said Chris Eize of the Sacred Mounds. “When we became the house band, we became part of the Lighthouse.”

Most bands that ever played at the Lighthouse played in a place where the music making was consistently better than it should have sounded, resonating better than the written notes, and from Funktapuss to the Sacred Mounds they always lit up the venue.

“The Super Scenics always had a blast playing there with our gracious hosts the Mounds and the Lighthouse” said Jeff Jahnke, “Thanks and cheers!”

“We got to know Michelle and Jodie on an intimate level of trust, honest communication, and friendship,” said Chris, the frontman of the Mounds. “I loved how Jodie didn’t really have a filter, and you knew exactly what she was thinking, because she would tell you, whether you liked it or not. We enjoyed the after-show drinks and reflections with Michelle, and that openness will live on with appreciation and fondness.”

There is always a lot of camaraderie in restaurants, everyone working closely together, all around the chuck wagon.

“The restaurant business, even in the most stable of markets is, frankly, exhausting,” said Joe Wanco. “It’s an ever-consuming extra member of the family. There are no restful nights, even with the help of your favorite tequila.”

It is a consuming undertaking because of the long hours and hard work, most of it on your feet, and the competition inherent in the undertaking. The restaurant business is massive, with more than one million restaurants coast to coast. The chances of making it even one year are slim. Most eateries close in their first twelve months. Three of four close in the next three to five years. Making it four decades is Bunyanesque.

“The Wanco family put their heart and soul into their work,” said Chris Eize. Staying the course means staying steadfast. “Wow, 40 years, that’s awesome,” said Katie Edmond.

“You and your oyster stew are going to be greatly missed,” said Rob Cushing.

“Joe and Laura, enjoy your well-deserved retirement,” said Virginia Paine Davis. “You have served the town well.”

It works both ways, coming and going, since Main Street in Wellfleet is not a one-way street.

“We are eternally grateful for the many years of support from our loyal clientele, especially our year-round community,” said the Wanco family, signing off.

“Good luck, cuz,” said Joyce Buccino Fabiano to the leave-taking.

“We sure are going to miss you all,” said Mike Deltano.

“But how will I ever find my children now when I get to Wellfleet?” asked Judy Sherlock. “Look for them at the library?”

The Wanco’s were the Lighthouse keepers for a long time. The lights of our favorite places go on and off over time. Every now and then they need a new minder. What Main Street needs now is a new barkeep to fire up the lanterns again at the local public house, like the Garden State transplants did forty-some enterprising years ago.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

Under the Gun

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“Al in all, it was all just bricks in the wall.”  Pink Floyd

For half a century, from 1916 until 1966, when Charles Whitman, an ex-Marine, shot and killed 16 people, injuring 31 others, shooting from atop an observation deck at the University of Texas at Austin, there were just 25 public mass shootings in which four-or-more people were killed. The young ex-soldier redefined homegrown massacres. He brought to bear a Remington 700, a .35-caliber Remington, a M1 carbine, a Sears semi-automatic shotgun, a .357 Magnum, a Luger, a .25-caliber pistol, and a big knife.

During the rampage a police sharpshooter in a small plane circling the 27-story building was repeatedly driven back by return fire. The first person killed was the eight-month-old not-yet-born baby of an 18-year-old pregnant student leaving the Student Union. She was shot in the abdomen.

Finally, two policemen stormed the observation deck, one firing his revolver, but missing, and the other killing Charles Whitman instantly with two blasts from his shotgun. The policeman with the revolver emptied his gun into the body at point-blank range, to make sure. He ran to the parapet yelling, “I got him, I got him.” He was almost shot himself by the police on the ground, who didn’t at first realize he wasn’t the shooter.

It remains to this day one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States.

In the 1980s, the FBI defined mass shootings as four-or-more people (not including the mass murderer) being killed in a single incident, typically in a single location. Since 1966 there have been thousands of them. Before 1966 there was a mass shooting about once every one hundred weeks, There is today a mass shooting about once every day.

Between 1999 and 2013 there were 31 mass murders per year on average. In 2015 there were 220 days of mass shootings and only 145 with none. In the first ten months of 2018 there were 307 mass shootings, almost as many as there were days.

It doesn’t bode well for 2019, with the White House still occupied by a crazy person, the National Rifle Association still staffed by crazy people, and millions of crazy Americans still armed to the teeth. The NRA, with reasoning crooked as a corkscrew, has re-interpreted the 2ndAmendment to suit their agenda. They and their supporters equate their success with goodness.

It doesn’t matter that rightness ends where a gun barrel begins.

There are more guns than people in the country, by far. There are almost 400 million guns in the USA. There are 12 million guns in Canada. There are 3 million guns in England. There a fewer than half-a-million guns in Japan. US citizens own 40% of all the guns in the world, more than the next 25 countries combined.

Until last year yoga studios seemed immune to the violence. Who ever saw a security guard at the front door of a yoga studio? At least, until last November, when Scott Beierle walked into Hot Yoga in Tallahassee, Florida, and shot to death Nancy Van Vessem, a physician and faculty member at Florida State University, and Maura Binkley, a student at the same university.

Maura Binkley’s father said his daughter had planned on becoming a teacher. “She truly lived a life really devoted to peace, love, and caring for others,” said Jeff Binkley. She didn’t live long. She was 21-years-old.

It doesn’t take long to go packing in Florida. There is no waiting period to buy an assault rifle. In Iowa no one needs a license to sell guns online. If you plan on selling lemonade, however, even if you’re a 7-year-old and your storefront is your front yard, you need both a food license and a business permit. In Texas, if you want to sell guns, go right on ahead, partner. It is the most heavily armed state in the country.

But, if you want to cut hair in Texas, you have to log 1,500 hours at hairdressing school. Scissors don’t kill people, people do.

Buying a gun almost anywhere in the United States is easier than getting a license to drive, filling out your tax return, or talking to tech support. It’s harder to pay off student debt, which typically takes about 21 years, than it is to buy a gun, which typically takes about 10 minutes. Anyone can walk into a gun store, pass a background check in record time, and get your gun. In some states no one has to even do that. They can buy a gun from a private seller or online, no background check required.

The United States has gone gun crazy. It’s not just mass shootings, either. In 2016, there were 15 people murdered with a handgun in Japan, 26 in England, 130 in Canada, and 11,004 in the USA.

Mass shootings have happened at casinos, nightclubs, hotels, military bases, music festivals, libraries, factories, airports, malls, courthouses, sorority houses, apartment buildings, Waffle Houses, backyard parties, Planned Parenthood clinics, movie theaters, churches, synagogues, the Empire State Building, nursing homes, baseball fields, grade schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities.

In Dangerfield, Texas, a man walked into a church and killed 5 people and wounded 10 others after members of the congregation had earlier declined to be character witnesses for him at a trial.

Besides the mortally shot, four others were wounded at Hot Yoga, a neighborhood studio, and one, a young man who, among others, fought back against the murderer, was pistol-whipped.

“Several people inside fought back, and tried to not only save themselves but other people,” said Police Chief Michael DeLeo. “It’s a testament to the courage of people who don’t just turn and run.”

One of them was shot nine times.

The shooting spree broke out on a Friday night as the yoga class was starting. Scott Beierle pretended to be a student, but then pulled a semi-automatic handgun from his duffle bag and started shooting anyone and everyone in sight without warning.

When the gunfire momentarily stopped, Joshua Quick took action.

“I don’t know if it jammed, or what,” he said. “So I used that opportunity to hit him over the head. I picked up the only thing nearby to hit him with, which was a vacuum cleaner, and I hit him on the head.” The shooter was staggered, but recovered his footing, and pummeled Joshua Quick on the forehead and nose with his gun. The yoga student fell to the floor, bleeding, but got back up

“I jumped up as quickly as I could, ran back, and the next thing I know I’m grabbing a broom, you know, anything I can, and I hit him again.”

“Thanks to him,” said Daniela Albalat, who was shot in the thigh, “I was able to rush out the door, slipping and bleeding. I want to thank that guy from the bottom of my heart because he saved my life.”

Joshua Quick did what the Dalai Lama would have done, except the Dali Lama would have gone heavy. Arguably one of the most peaceable men on the planet, when asked by a child at the Educating Heart Summit in Oregon what he would do if someone came to his school with a gun, he replied without hesitation, ”If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”

By then, three minutes after the first 911 call, sirens were wailing and the police were showing up at Hot Yoga. Scott Beierle cleared the gun’s chamber, turned it on himself, and shot himself dead and straight to hell.

He lived in Deltona, Florida, about 250 miles from Tallahassee, and had no apparent prior connection with the yoga studio or anyone he gunned down. He had lately been a substitute teacher at the Volusia County Schools, even though he had a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University in New York and a master’s degree in public administration from Florida State University. He had been arrested several times for battery for groping women on the FSU campus.

“He just gave off a psychopathic vibe, like someone crazy,” said Samantha Mikolajczyk, who had him as a teacher when she was in eighth grade.

He was fired for unprofessional conduct, which meant he had been inappropriately touching teenage female students. Five months later he checked into a Tallahassee motel, and on November 2, 2018, walked into the Tallahassee yoga studio he didn’t know anything about, and started shooting people he didn’t know anything about, except that some of them were women.

“I really didn’t know him,” said his neighbor, Rachel Rodriguez. “He was quiet. He was like a loner.”

He was an amateur musician who posted his songs online. One was “American Whore.” Another was “Homicidal Impulse.” In “American Massacre” he sang, “If I cannot find a decent female to live with, I will find many indecent females to die with. I find that if I cannot make a living, then I will turn, to be successful, I will make a killing.”

Mass murderers are all different, except almost all of them are men. They have their reasons for doing what they do, although none of them are good reasons, and many, if not all, mass murderers suffer from baseline mental problems. Mental health is not compatible with murdering people.

Although they and their reasons are variable, the one constant among them is the semi-automatic firearms they deploy. None of them carries a musket. None of them carries a Colt six-shooter. They bring their AR-15’s. They bring the blessing and imprimatur of the NRA and our self-serving rulers, the NRA that has successfully lobbied one Congress after another for decades to severely limit research by the Centers for Disease Control into gun-related violence

A few days after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in March 2018, then House Speaker Paul Ryan said his ruling Republican Party planned on keeping restrictions on gun research in place. “We don’t just knee-jerk before we have all the facts and the data,” said the longtime opponent of gun measures.

As long as his kneecaps aren’t getting popped, he’s not going to knee-jerk it.

“We are saddened and angered by the senseless shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee,” said Tasha Eichenseher, Yoga Journal’s brand director. “Studios are sacred places where we go for self-care and to feel safe.”

After Sandy Hook and Tree of Life Synagogue and First Baptist Church, it is doubtful there are any sacred places left. It is undoubtedly true there are no safe places left. If even Fort Hood, the biggest active-duty armored army base in the United States, couldn’t prevent Nidal Hasan, an Army major and psychiatrist, from going postal and fatally shooting 13 soldiers, while wounding more than 30 others, it’s doubtful there is safe and secure anywhere.

“It was only a matter of time that gun violence would touch our community,” said Amy Ippoliti, co-founder of 90 Monkeys. “This should be a battle cry to take up the charge. The only way to change gun violence is through policy and politics. If you think yoga isn’t about politics, you need to think again.”

“You have a whole generation with this being more and more normal,” said Jeff Binkley. “That cannot happen.”

Nevertheless, as long as the crazy people we elect to rule in our state and national legislatures, and the crazy people we elect to our state and national capital houses, are the same wallet-stuffing vote-stuffing people allied with gun manufacturers and Second Amendment propagandists, gun-reform legislation and public-health funding are not going to happen.

They don’t give it a second thought.

President Trump performs by way of Twitter to the grass roots that believe they need their guns to make it in this world. They put their faith in his Punch and Judy show even though his grass roots were watered at a thousand country clubs where a thousand gun manufacturers dine and drink and play 18 holes. The security guards carry guns, since Orange Julius no more believes in responsible gun rights than he believes in the Constitution.

Two-and-a-half centuries later we don’t live in 1780s buildings anymore, we don’t travel in 1780s horse and buggies anymore, and we don’t turn on the lights with 1780s whale oil anymore. We don’t read one-page pamphlets and the penny press anymore. We don’t use 1780s medicine, like arsenic and leeches, anymore. There is no reason why a 1780s amendment to the Constitution, written to enable a militia, should enable mass murderers to buy whatever guns whenever and wherever they want.

But, that’s the world we have made and the world we live in.

Coming Soon! to a neighborhood near you. Maybe even your own neighborhood. Maybe even your own backyard.

Gun Crazy!

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Soul Music

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“I’ve always been obsessed by weddings,” said Marsha Weeks. “I used to buy wedding magazines when I was 7-years-old and dream about planning a wedding.”

Most kids don’t grow up to be the firemen and rock stars, much less heroes and explorers, they dreamt about becoming. It’s less than 1 out of 30. It’s a long shot when it comes to becoming a hero, or even a wedding planner. The rest of children, because of ups and downs, twists and turns, turn out becoming and doing something else, mechanics, working in stores, teachers, and doctors.

Marsha Weeks grew up in Fredericton, a small rural community in western Queens County on Prince Edward Island. The province is Canada’s smallest, made up of only three counties, as well as the most rural. It is the only province without a metropolis. Most islanders live in country and small town areas.

After graduating from high school she moved west, almost three thousand miles west, enrolling at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. She stayed for ten years. “I did hospitality management, managed restaurants,” she said. When she moved back to PEI she worked in hotels in Charlottetown, the capital, then went into sales and marketing at the Stanley Bridge Resort, not far from where she grew up.

“I now work for the Children’s Wish Foundation,” she said. She is a wish coordinator. “We grant wishes to children from the ages of 3 to 17 who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.” Founded in 1983, the charitable organization has chapters in every province and territory of Canada. It has granted more than 25,000 wishes. The most popular ones include travel and meeting celebrities.

Super heroes are splashed across the pages of comic books and IMAX screens, battling super villains and saving the world. Real heroes are usually real people helping another real person. She helps kids hitch their wagons to a shooting star.

She also helps grown-ups get hitched to their sweethearts. Since returning to Prince Edward Island, she has become a licensed marriage commissioner and officiant. Dreaming about weddings and watching re-runs of “Say Yes to the Dress” has finally paid off.

“The provincial government started licensing it in 2006, because there was a demand for same-sex marriages,” said Marsha. “There was the church, too, which doesn’t allow marriages outside of the church. A priest wouldn’t be allowed to marry somebody on the beach.”

When 90 people flew to the island last summer for the wedding of Matthew MacDonald, a PEI native, and Katie Shaver, they landed at a wedding officiated by Marsha Weeks staged on a red cliff overlooking the Northumberland Straight.

“It was important to us to showcase the island and have a real east coast feel,” said Katie. “We were blessed with perfect weather, a quintessential late summer PEI day!”

Although you have to take the birds and bees into consideration, as well as inclement weather and the buffet table surviving the wind, nothing beats getting married outdoors. Unless you mistake the lay of the land and your car gets marooned. “Someone from Ontario coming to a wedding here decided to drive over the dunes on to Cavendish Beach,” said Marsha. “They got stuck in the sand and had to be towed out.”

In any event, the flowers are already there – pink and purple lupins line the fields, roads, and ditches in June and July – and your photos will look great.

Almost 900 marriage certificates were issued in the province in 2018, according to PEI Vital Statistics, nearly 400 of them going to couples with a relationship to the island, but not necessarily living there. The Marriage Act was simplified in 2016, allowing people off-island to marry with passports, doing away with the need for birth certificates. There are almost one hundred marriage commissioners licensed to conduct a legal marriage ceremony.

Marsha Weeks is one of the busiest of them. On a summer day last year she officiated five weddings on a Saturday. She didn’t wait for all the traffic lights in all directions to go green before getting going.

“I started at Cavendish, a destination wedding, went to Fox Meadows Golf Course, a farmer’s field in Brookfield, to the woods at Clinton Hills, and ended up on a back road on the Trout River, at a private residence.”

For once, she hired somebody to drive her. “I didn’t want to risk being late, and I wanted to be able to give them as much attention as I could,’ she said. “I didn’t want to just jump out in time for their ‘I do’s’”

It isn’t only traditional wedding season bells, either.

“I recently officiated a large wedding in western PEI,” she said. “The bride and groom chose to incorporate their children with a sand ceremony to symbolize the blending of their two families into one, and presented the children with necklaces as their own special gifts. It was a reflection on how important one big happy family meant to the couple.

“That same day I officiated a small intimate wedding in Charlottetown. The bride and groom couldn’t keep their eyes off of each other for even a second, and as they exchanged their vows, their love for each other radiated. It was honestly beautiful.”

Most people, as recently as ten years ago, used to get married in a church. Nowadays most people get married in a civil ceremony. “I think it’s going to continue that way,” said fellow commissioner Marlo Dodge. “You can get married wherever you want, whenever you want. You can tailor the ceremony to the way you want.”

As long as you include the legal parts, you can write your own ceremony.

Not many people, however, write their own music. There are scores of wedding ceremony songs, from the traditional to the modern. “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles is still popular, as are Josh Groban’s “The Prayer” and “Fairytale” by Enya. “The Wedding March” by Felix Mendelssohn has stayed a Top 10 on the soul music charts since it was first played in 1858 as a recessional for a royal wedding.

Marsha started making soul music on her own when she moved back to Prince Edward Island.

She had gotten the hang of the pump organ as a tot sitting at her grandmother’s side. “One of the fondest memories I have growing up is of her playing hymns. She loved playing for herself. I’m like that. I get something out of it on the inside.” She started taking fiddle lessons six years ago from Gary Chipman.

“Someone recommended him,” she said.

She couldn’t have tied the bowstring knot with anybody better. Gary Chipman learned to play the fiddle when he was 5-years-old. His father, a well-known Charlottetown-area fiddler, taught him his first tunes. By the 1960s he was often featured at local dance halls. He toured with Stompin’ Tom Connors and is well known for his down east Don Messer style of fiddling.

“The Cape Breton style is rhythmic, with Scottish cuts,” said Marsha. ”The down east style is melodic, it flows, it’s a lot faster.”

If Don Messer played with little ornamentation and great assurance, Gary Chipman plays with expressiveness and great assurance.

“I was taking lessons from him, but I had not heard him play,” said Marsha. She heard him one afternoon at Remembrance Day. “I couldn’t see the stage, but I could hear a person playing. That is amazing, I thought. Who is playing that fiddle?”

It was her music teacher. She had only ever heard him play scales. She didn’t know he had played on the folk musical TV variety show “Don Messer’s Jubilee” when he was still a lad. “My chest swelled so much I thought it would burst, it was so exciting,” said Gary. The half-hour show at the time was second in viewership only to “Hockey Night in Canada.”

“These are the good old days, today,” said Gary. “I’m going to keep playing until I can’t play anymore.”

“Musicians don’t retire,” said Louis Armstrong. “They only stop when there’s no more music in them.”

“The Don Messer show was near and dear to a lot of people in Atlantic Canada,” said Marsha. ”When they cancelled it, there was a huge protest. Not riots, but a huge uproar.”

Since brainstorming is the marriage of ideas, Marsha put on her thinking cap. She went to the beach on the national seashore. She went for a walk by herself. She went home and took a hot shower. It’s where some people do their best thinking. Warm water helps increase dopamine flow to the brain. She let her thoughts take center stage.

“I’ve always had an element of promotions and event planning in my career. His natural ability to play music, my entrepreneurial spirit, it was a kind of natural fusion, and I decided I wanted to organize a show.”

They put together a performance, and then did another, and then ”it kind of blossomed after that.” They spent two seasons doing shows at Avonlea Village and two seasons after that at Stanley Bridge. In between they took a Don Messer show on the road.

Avonlea Village is in Cavendish, on the north-central coast, the small town Lucy Maud Montgomery called Avonlea in “Anne of Green Gables.” It is a re-creation of the 19thcentury town, merging purpose-built with heritage buildings. The Women’s Institute in Stanley Bridge is 4 miles up the main drag on Route 6. There are ceilidhs at the community hall six days a week in the summer.

“The Stanley Bridge hall has such a soul,” said Marsha.

Two years ago Gary Chipman spent summer nights there playing with Keelin Wedge, a hairpin turns wizard on the fiddle, and Kevin Chaisson. Last year he played Mondays with the Chaisson Family Trio and Wednesdays with the Arsenault Trio. Jordan Chowden, a world-class step-dancer, made the stage boards go percussive. The Chaisson’s from Bear River have deep roots in PEI’s music scene They are part of the spearhead keeping traditional fiddling alive and well on the island.

Marsha hosted the shows, joining in when the opportunity arose, although keeping up with the Arsenault’s was no mean feat.

“Their liveliness is amazing,” she said. “If we were playing ‘St Anne’s Reel,’ they definitely add more notes to it. They put their own spin on everything. It’s their Acadian style and it’s fast.”

Before the shows Marsha does all of the social media, organizes the schedule, takes notes during rehearsals, and types up the play list in capital letters. She makes sure the doors of the hall are open, the lights are on, and the soundboard is right on.  “I’m always so proud to hand them their play list, although by the end of the night they might have done a few songs on the page,” she said. “It’s just the way it is. Most of the time it works.”

During the shows Marsha is the emcee and stage manager. “Everybody likes the sound of their instruments through the monitors a certain way. They’ve got to have water. Gary has to have his guitar on his right side, or else he gets all tangled up.”

She is also the timekeeper. “It seems like I’m the boss of it, but that’s only because they never think to look at the clock. They would keep going all night. Gary is the biggest offender. I don’t necessarily want the music to stop, either, but I’m the one who knows the show has to end at 9:30.”

Marsha’s own fiddle has become an extension of herself. “I understand now what I was missing,” she said. “It’s a part of me, a part of who I am. It’s a part of what makes myself me. You don’t have to be the best. You just have to feel it.”

It’s her own soul music.

“I don’t think of it as a genre. It’s more of a feeling,” explained Louis Kevin Celestin, a Montreal DJ and partner in the hip hop duo the Celestics, explaining soul music.

“Don Messer was my idol when I was a kid,” said Gary. “I thought his band was the best type in the world.  I had the dream of doing my own tribute show.”

The dream came true in 2015 when he did a tribute show at Winsloe United Church, on the road between Oyster Bed Bridge and Charlottetown. Gary’s daughter was in the band and the Charlotte Twirlers, a square dance group, hoofed it up.

Two years later Marsha and Gary took “A PEI Salute to the Music of Don Messer and His Islanders” farther down the road. They took the Messer-style toe-tapping jigs and reels to National Fiddling Day in Charlottetown and the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside. They took the show to Harvey, New Brunswick, Don Messer’s hometown.

“It’s of real sentimental importance to me, having tried to emulate the sounds of Don Messer for my entire fiddling career,” said Gary.

“The older the fiddle, the sweeter the sound,” is what they say.

In September 2017 they took the show to Walter’s Dinner Theatre in Bright, Ontario. “I don’t even know where Bright is, but we’ll find it,” said Gary. When they found it they sold out all the nine shows they did during their week’s run at the watering hole and show hall.

“Gary plays old tunes in new ways,” said Marsha. “He’s the real deal. He puts his own twist on things.”

Sometimes Marsha puts her own twist on weddings. Sometimes stepping up to the altar and step dancing happen all on the same day. Sometimes somebody’s first dance is in the center aisle at the Stanley Bridge community hall, to the soul music of three or four island fiddlers serenading you.

“There were the two moms, the couple, their son, and me,” said Marsha. “It was an intimate wedding.”

The couple from Alberta had come especially to PEI the middle of last summer to get married. “I try to personalize it. I want them to have an amazing experience when they’re making their forever promises to each other.” There’s a forever kind of happiness in making a commitment. The first event many couples plan together is their wedding. There’s nothing unfun about it, either.

“Marsha brought a genuine joyful vibe that is priceless. We felt she was truly happy for us. We are so glad we chose her to officiate our ceremony. That joy is something one can’t pay for.“

Even though the climate is more mild than it should be thanks to the warm water out in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, summer is short and winter is long on Prince Edward Island. It starts to snow in November and lasts until April. Harbors can be frozen solid into May.

“I’m a bit of an old soul,” she said. “I work full-time, but in the winter I slow down, recharge. I write, do projects, and plan for the spring. I practice my fiddle. I practice every day.”

Winter is when wishes get organized and saved up for the heyday of springtime.

“If I could just do weddings and fiddles all the time, it would be my perfect life,” said Marsha Weeks, springing a smile.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.