22
Jan

MORNING MATCH - A short story by a visitor - Judy Vaughan

Today, I'm sharing a short story by my writer friend, Judy Vaughan.

Judy  grew up in Northern New Mexico surrounded by sacred mountains and engrossed in the lives of horses and other animals. She left the family ranch for boarding school in Colorado and then attended Carleton College and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She has composed stories since childhood, and began to hone the craft of writing after forty years practicing neurology.

Morning Match  

This morning, before I raise my eyelids, the cat’s paw-steps crinkle the surface of the comforter pulled to my chin. His indentations push down. They are somatosensory taps along my thigh. He might be walking in snow while I am the ground below.

A dream vanishes into the ringtone of the smart phone alarm, set today to prompt me to meet the washing machine repairman during a “window” from eight to one. “Ask him to come as early as possible,” I had told the receptionist yesterday though I have no other deadline short of their arbitrary “window.”

Awake now, I give Match his morning hug and cue him back to his sleep-spot on top of the fuzzy acrylic coverlet, folded at the end of the bed. He bypasses it, and jumps to the floor, his crepuscular self on the move at daybreak.

I don a tattered robe and hobble to the kitchen. I push the start button on my single service coffee maker.

Bangs and scuffles make me imagine the repairman at the door, sounds not unlike someone organizing their tools outside the home of a scheduled client. But it’s way too early; It’s just Match banging the door of the linen closet.

I think of all the poems that begin with the author at the breakfast nook, ceramic cup in hand, interrupting their writing to muse over the décor, the kettle or some bird outside the window. On a segue way to a solitary mood.

And there’s my bird through the sliding glass door. In the yard, an overgrown lavender shrub feeds the local hummingbirds through the damp spring. Last year’s nests stand out in the skeletons of my neighbor’s trees, and a green male Anna’s clicks as he explores the clustered back yards in my cul-de-sac. The click call, generated by a pop of air from his throat is as loud as a mobile phone notification.

I open the glass door.

The cat hears it. I let him slip through a narrow opening and crouch behind the locked screen. That’s his catio. He can’t see the bird clearly at his age, but he chirps his attention. I check the latch. Match wants to go out---the loamy smell and the swoop of the birds lure us both. Volunteer lettuce has sprouted in the wine barrel; I might broadcast a few more seeds later today.

He rattles the screen latch again and meows.

“I get it Match, but, no.” I close the sliding glass and distract him with fresh water. I push a cup of Sweet and Creamy coffee through the machine into a souvenir mug that uses three x-es to write “Relaxxx in Ireland.”

Match never wanted to be an indoor cat. As a kitten with a demanding meow, he appeared at my daughter’s home, black with white markings, the most prominent of which was a 5-millimeter spot on his forehead. A dot. Like Match.Com, the dating service that was easing me into grandmotherhood twelve years ago.

Adopted into my home, he was exhausting. His dog-like demand for my attention included biting and scratching to initiate communication. If I kept him busy, he was a lot of fun. As in tricks. He would retrieve small toy mice or bring me a toilet paper roll as a gift. I easily taught him to jump when cued around furniture or through a hoop. Escape was his favorite game, and one day he succeeded. He disappeared.

I sip the coffee and relive the grief I felt. How I let my neighbor convince me to take in an elderly stray and made her take him back the next day. How I told everyone about my “Labrador retriever cat.” For years. Tearing up every time.

Five years later, I got the call. “Did you lose a cat? ‘Match Dot Com’ on his microchip? He’s at the County Animal Shelter. He’s injured. Do you want him back?”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I said.

When I lifted his skeletal body from the shelter crate to my bosom, he snuggled and purred. He’d been found eleven miles from my house.

I move aside to let the repairman do his job. I get a rag and clean the grimy surfaces of the washer revealed during the repair. The technician, Gregor, is polite, but not as chatty as I’d want. I’ve only recently learned to restrain myself from asking about national origins. The price is as quoted, and the app on his smart phone processes my credit card. Match leaves his strangers-are-here hiding place seconds after Gregor’s van pulls away.

I reheat the last ounce of Sweet and Creamy, sit back down and open the Mac. Match jumps to the other chair then onto the kitchen table where he looks at me with an owl-like stare. His eyes, once pure green, are now checkered with iris atrophy. They look like the mosaic eyes of a Byzantine virgin. A scar has widened one tear duct. A larger one in his right axilla leaves a patch of skin devoid of hair and warm to the touch. It marks the site where an open wound almost sent him to euthanasia when he was brought in from his five years of feral life.

I must have half a dozen pictures of him on Facebook in this very pose, the owl stare hinting at a possible stealth attack, or maybe just a wise proof-read.

I suspect all those poets had a cat.

*******

Judy lives in Elk Grove, California, and writes with Elk Grove Writers and Artists. Works in progress include her New Mexico memoir, Strawberry Roan. Her stories have placed in short story contests and have been published in NCPA Anthologies.

She is a member of the California Writers Club, Northern California Publishers and Authors, and the New Mexico Book Association.

Contact her at jfbvaughan@comcast.net.

 

30
May

CREATING A BOOK COVER

 

 

 

There are as many ways to design a book cover as there are books. Nonfiction book covers, particularly political books seem to lean toward THE TITLE against a plain background and the author’s name. Many cozy mystery novels present an artist’s rendering of a scene, often including a dog or cat. I prefer using photographs on my book covers and believe the book cover should suggest the plot of the novel. There should be a consistency in the design of a series. Using the same color and size font for the title and a similarity in design helps readers recognize a particular series.

This fall I will publish a cozy cat mystery, the fourth in the Black Cat series. Black Cat and the Clue in Dewey’s Diary is a dual tale that takes place in California and also in Austria. While Black Cat and Angel are embroiled in village intrigue and riveting drama along the shores of a No. California resort town, Dorian and Kimberlee attempt to find a long-lost treasure they believe is still hidden in the small Austrian town of Hopfgarten. The story moves back and forth between Black Cat’s wisdom and Angel’s snarky wit, and Kimberlee unexpected challenges in a foreign country.

It all started with a message written in a WWII diary from a soldier who befriended a German soldier during the battle of Normandy. Following the war, Dewey records in his diary, a mysterious message he receives from his friend… The treasures is in Hopfgarten….touch the feet of the babe…

Kimberlee reads Dewey’s diary just before she and Dorian embark on an Austrian vacation. Of course, they must go to Hopfgarten to follow the clues written in a diary more than 50 years before.

Kimberlee’s Austrian adventure includes many of my 1987 personal experiences when I traveled through castles and villages, saw cows with bells around their necks, visited 1000 year old churches in Salzburg, and finally into Hopfgarten. It was there I encountered many of the events included in Kimberlee’s adventure, and first imagined the story of a missing treasure and Dewey’s diary.

The novel is currently being edited with an expected publishing date this fall. So, finding the right photographs for my Black Cat mystery was very important. I wanted the photos to suggest both parts of the story. It had to include a cat to represent Black Cat. I wanted his foot on a diary to suggest that important plot point. It must also suggest the other half of the story in Europe. There are plenty of Europe pictures, but the search was on for the right black and white tuxedo cat.

I requested photographs, from an online cat group, of black and white cats with their paw raised so a diary could be photo shopped under it. I received over 100 lovely pictures. Sebastian, pictured above, was the closest to my need. However, another picture was eventually selected from Shutterstock. The cover will include the cat with his foot on a diary and a shadowed castle behind.

I’m looking forward to publishing Black Cat and the Clue in Dewey’s Diary. I think my readers will enjoy this new and exciting dual story. Let me know how you feel about a book with basically two stories interwoven throughout.

19
Feb

The Conscientious Objector


One of the stories from my book - ALL THINGS CAT HTTP://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak
The Conscientious Objector
The old woman, Broomtilda, took me in when I was a wee kitten and named me Tinkleberry. Her idea, not mine…Over the years, as she grew frailer, it became difficult for her to find enough work around the village to buy bread and cheese. Were it not for the old cow in the byre, we would have no milk for my breakfast and Broomtilda’s dinner.

One night, Broomtilda tucked her shoes under the bed, pulled the covers up to her nose and went to sleep with only milk for her dinner. Come dawn, being too weak to rise, she called me to her side. “I have provided all your needs until today, Tinkleberry. Now, you must go, my friend, kill a small beast and bring me meat, for I no longer have the means to feed us. If you fail, I shall perish.”

That she should ask me to kill a living creature went against my very soul, for unlike my feline brethern, I have long been a conscientious objector. “You know I would do anything for you, dear Broomtilda,” I said, “but to kill even the smallest living creature, I cannot do. Please do not ask me to pay such a price in return for your kindness.”

“How can you answer thus, when I am ill and hungry? Have I not always provided for you?”

The tears in her eyes wrenched my heart, and yet I trembled in horror at the thought of killing even the smallest vole. “Isn’t there another way to meet our needs?”

“Only one, but I dare not speak of it. It’s far too dangerous,” she wept.

“Whatever it might be, I shall do as you demand, if it keep me from breaking my vow as a conscientious objector.” I bowed my head, my hair bristling in dread.

She lifted her frail hand. “You must make your way to yonder mountain. High on the top beside a river, you’ll find a cave where a wicked leprechaun dwells,” she said. “Perhaps you can trick him into revealing where he hides his gold. Even if you can steal one small coin, it would feed us for many weeks. Go, now Tinkleberry. My life is in your paws, small friend.” My mistress fell back upon the bed, her voice a bare whisper. “If you cannot bring back a piece of gold, our days on this earth are numbered.”

I set out to do as she had bid. Though against my conscience to kill, my wits would be tested if I was to fool the evil leprechaun, steal a coin, and live to tell the tale.

The trail to the mountain was steep. With each step, I cast about in my mind how to fulfill such a task. And with each step nearer the cave, I had no clear plan how to dupe the leprechaun from his gold.

“Halt. Who goes there?” The shrill voice of the wicked leprechaun called out from beneath the log that spanned the river. His words chilled my heart. It was now or never! “Answer, Cat, or I’ll turn you to stone.”

Panic seized my heart. And an idea popped into my furry head. “I’m just a harmless pussy cat out for a stroll in the woods. My, what a lovely river you have here, Sir Leprechaun. I love what you’ve done with the place.” A little honey-talk goes a long way toward soothing a malevolent spirit, or so I’m told. I sashayed across the log, humming an Irish ditty, and bowed low. “My name is Tinkleberry. (Her idea, not mine.) Pray tell, what might your name be, kind sir?”

The leprechaun’s demeanor softened somewhat. “My name is Merichandrick. What do you seek?” He grumbled.

“A spot of tea would be lovely. I’m weary from my travels.” I looked wistfully toward the gnome, hoping to convey abject vulnerability and candor. To my great relief, he invited me to step inside his abode.

“Come on in and I’ll light the fire.” I followed him into the grotto, aware that he might have a trick up his sleeve. Was he planning to toss me into the stew pot once inside? My nerves tingled, prepared for the worst.

“Sit over there.” The imp shuffled toward the fire as I scanned the cave.

Fearing treachery, I kept one wary eye on my host as I gazed around. A green and red parrot in a cage, hung from a golden hook. “Oh, what a lovely bird,” I posited, sidling closer to the cage. Where was he hiding that blasted pot of gold? Near the back of the cave, something lay hidden beneath a red blanket.

The little man turned. “Will you be after spending the night?” said he, with a wicked glint in his eye.

He likely plans to kill me as I lay sleeping. “If I’m so invited,” says I with a yawn, patting my paw against my mouth, giving him a good view of my sharp fangs, in case he had any funny ideas. “Let us drink our tea and I’ll curl up for the night just yonder on your lovely red blanket.”

He shook his mop of green curls. “Not there,” he shrieked, panic shining from his wicked eye. “Best you should sleep closer to the fire.”

“As you wish, and I thank you kindly for the hospitality,” says I. Oho! The gold is beneath the blanket. Once the little man sleeps, I’ll snatch a coin and be on my way. He’ll be none the wiser from the loss of one coin.

My host set out two mugs, poured the tea and shoved one toward me. Expecting a trick, I sneezed, and as he reached for a handkerchief, I switched the mugs. Indeed, my mug was drugged, for the evil goblin drank and fell immediately into a stupor.

As I reached to snatch a gold coin from the pot beneath the blanket, the parrot shrieked, spewing vile curses. Murderous rage filled my heart. Would the cursed bird ruin everything? All I needed was one small coin to save my mistress.

A conscientious objector no more, I leaped at the cage and knocked it to the dirt floor. The door flew upon and the now repentant parrot squawked and flapped on the ground. One swift snap of my jaws, and the bird would curse no more.

Broomtilda traded the gold coin for six chickens and a second cow. Bossy gives us enough milk to sell and pay for bread and vegetables.
As a recovering conscientious objector, only occasionally must I venture into the woods, highjack an unsuspecting rabbit and fetch it home for the stewpot. If our fortune changes for the worse or the old cow dies, the wicked leprechaun still has a pot full of gold coins, and I know where he lives.

If you enjoyed this story, I urge you to purchase the book, All Things Cat, with 21 of my short stories about cats or in this case... written by the cat!

10
Sep

Interviewing Chief Waddlemucker - Mrs. Odboddy's Friend

VILLIAN

We’re here today, interviewing Chief Waddlemucker of the Newbury Police Department, seeking information about Mrs. Odboddy. Tell me, Chief, what can you tell us about Agnes Odboddy?

Mrs. Odboddy? She’s a kook, but she’s the salt of the earth; volunteers all over town, knitting socks, winding bandages, collecting papers and cans. She even takes a shift out at the ocean, doing coast watch, but, if you ask me, she is a bit of a queer duck. Everyone knows she’s a bit off her nut, quite eccentric and outspoken. Doesn’t give a hoot about what she says or who she offends. Don’t misunderstand me, she’s my dearest friend and I have great respect for the woman. She does a lot for the war effort, but she does test my patience at times. God bless her.

How is that? She tests your patience in an official capacity or personally?

I’m not one to spread gossip, but I swear, Agnes is in my office every week, either accusing someone of being a Nazi spy or talking about the Black Market or some such nonsense. I see her walking through the door and my head starts to ache. Sometimes I even think my ulcer is directly attributable to that woman.

How long have you known Mrs. Odboddy?

Oh, we’ve been friends for years. She moved to Newbury in 1928. Came directly from Los Angeles where she says she worked with Walk Disney at the Disney Studios when he created the cartoon character, Steamboat Willy. Apparently Walt fired her for some reason I haven’t been able to weasel out of her. Now, tell me, can you believe that story? They show that cartoon at the movies every month. But, she tells all sorts of stories, and with Agnes, you can never determine fact from fabrication.

What other kind of stories have you heard? Care to share?

I never repeat gossip, but she claims to have worked for the government during WWI as an undercover agent. Claims she was in Berlin on some sort of secret mission involving German high government officials in 1919. She brags about this all the time, but I don’t believe a word or it.

Sounds like Agnes is quite a character. Does she have any family?

She lives with her granddaughter, Katherine, a lovely girl. Works at the Curls to Dye For Beauty Salon, but I hear she’s going to start moonlighting down at Whistlemeyer’s mortuary, doing hair and make-up on the dearly departed. That should be interesting.

Thank you, Chief Waddlemucker, for talking with me. You’ve given me some great insight into the real Mrs. Odboddy.

Ahem… Well, everyone knows I have a reputation for being the soul of discretion. I would never consider spreading gossip about the private lives of Newbury citizens.

By the way, if you print one word of what was said here today, I’ll disavow it and toss you in the clink for slander and jaywalking. There’s the door. Give Mrs. Odboddy my best regards, won’t you? I’ve always been quite fond of the woman.

25
Jul

The Story Behind the Friendship Dolls of 1926

friendshipdoll.1

Even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, there was strife between Japan and the United States as early as 1907 when the US passed immigration laws making it challenging for Japanese citizens to immigrate to the US. In 1924, an Immigration Act effectively barred Japanese from entering the US, even making it difficult for Japanese war brides to return to the US with their husbands.

Saddened by the deteriorating relations between the countries, in 1924, Reverend Sidney L. Gulick, a missionary to Japan, founded a committee called World Friendship Among Children. They began collecting dolls from United States children, planning to send them on a good will mission the children of Japan and scheduled to arrive in time for their national doll festival on March 3rd.

The committee collected 12,739 blue-eyed, blonde haired dolls, and dressed them in typical American clothes. They attached a message to each doll. “May the United States of America and Japan always stay friends. I am being sent to Japan on a mission of friendship. Please let me join the doll festival on March 3 in your country” The dolls carried a passport which read, “This doll is a good citizen of the United States of America. She will obey all the laws and customs of your country. Please take care of her while she is with you.”

The dolls were well-received by the children in schools and kindergartens around Japan. As a return good-will gesture, in November, 1927, fifty-eight Japanese Ambassador dolls were returned to the United States. Each was named for a particular province or Japanese town, such as Miss Akita, or Miss Ehime. Each stood 81 cm tall and was exquisitely dressed in authentically styled kimonos of fine silks and brocades, each created and valued at $2,400 (by today’s monetary standards).

The American Friendship dolls and the Japanese Ambassador dolls were displayed in museums and places of honor until the war in 1941. Sadly, large numbers of the US Friendship Dolls were destroyed in Japan during the war and most of the Japanese Ambassador Dolls in the US were put in storage or lost.

To date, at least 270 of the American dolls and 35 of the original Japanese Ambassador dolls have been recovered in Japan and America by people interested in preserving history. Many hold places of honor in museums, schools and collections both in Japan and the U.S. Many of the Japanese Ambassador dolls make their way annually back to Japan in time to celebrate the March 3rd Japanese Doll festival.

Reverend Gulick’s family continues to make and send dolls to the children of Japan in a continued friendship gesture. Since 1986, they have sent approximately ten dolls each year to schools in Japan, each dressed in traveling clothes and carrying a handbag and a passport.

A local Sacramento author, Shirley Parenteau, has written a delightful children’s book about the Friendship Dolls called SHIP OF DOLLS. It can be purchased at her website, www.shirleyparenteau.com or at Amazon under the title SHIP OF DOLLS.

As I child, I collected storybook dolls. I still have several of my childhood dolls on display in china cabinets. Tell me about your favorite doll or doll related story. I’d love to hear from you.

]

friendshipdoll.1

27
Apr

All Aboard the Friendship Train

FriendshipTrain

While doing research for the WWII novel I’m currently writing, I often find information of little remembered history from WWII. I recently learned of the Friendship Train sent to France and Italy following the war.

Much of Europe was devastated during WWII and following the war, the people continued to suffer years of deprivation, limited food supplies and a slow reconstruction of their towns.

While Drew Pearson, a popular journalist of the time, visited Europe during 1947, he heard that the Communists were being thanked for sending a few carloads of grain to the Europeans. Feeling that the United States could do more to help our European neighbors; he conceived the vision of the Friendship Train. His suggestions appeared in his newscast columns on October 11, 1947. He asked our citizens to donate food and clothing to help the people of France and Italy. I’m sure he must have been amazed at the response to his request.

Immediately, towns, cities, and the citizens of every state in the USA collected food for the Friendship Train. The plan was met with such enthusiasm that competition among the communities, counties, and states began for collecting and sending the largest contribution.

Five weeks later, on November 7, 1947, the Friendship Train began its trek beginning in Los Angeles and ending in New York City. Although the train traveled through only eleven states, every state sent boxcars or trucks filled with goods to meet the Friendship Train at a junction. When it arrived in New York, we had collected and shipped $40 million in food and supplies to Europe aboard the 700-car American Friendship Train.

No money was ever spent in the process. The transportation by rail and truck, the loading of the boxcars and trucks, the loading and the use of the ships was all provided by volunteers and donations. The train's mission was an incredible display of goodwill from the people of the United States to France and Italy.

Every package had this label: "All races and creeds make up the vast melting pot of America, and in a democratic and Christian spirit of good will toward men, we, the American people, have worked together to bring this food to your doorsteps, hoping that it will tide you over until your own fields are again rich and abundant with crops." Also on every label were these words, "This gift is sent to you by: 'first and last name and address of donor.’” This message was written in Italian and French and printed beside the American flag.

In 1949, France reciprocated by collecting 49 boxcars full of gifts donated by the French citizens and returned to the USA in their Merci Train as a thank-you for our generosity. One boxcar went to each state. Upon arrival, the gifts were distributed in various ways. Some freely given, others auctioned off and many items placed in local museums. The boxcars, called 40 and 8 boxcars were vintage, having been used to transport troops during WWI and then again during WWII. Many veterans remembered being transported across Europe in these boxcars. The Merci Train cars were restored and kept in museums across the country as memorials to those who had fought and died. Most of these boxcars have survived, many now over 100 years old, and are on display in museums in 43 states.

More information about the Friendship Train and the Merci Train can be found on the internet.

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