Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, December 20, 2013

Along the Climbing Way

Here is a little Christmas story I wrote in 2001, the year that Wilmington Trust decided I was too old for them anymore and forced me into retirement. It is, as Hollywood often puts it, based on actual events. (Photo by the author.)

Larry Eugene Meredith 

Grew up on a farm and learned to read weather early. Little turn of breeze and a good season can go south on vacation and leave you high and dry or two fronts will bump up against one another like long lost lovers and flood the Spring seed out of the furrows into a river that a month before was a mud hole sucking the soil dry. Freezes can pop up early and kill the orchard or the heat can grasp a hold of late summer to wither the tomatoes and shrivel the corn. You weather it out with a bank note and a church prayer till the next season comes with its own surprises.
Life follows it own seasons of drought and plenty and we hit a blizzard of want in the autumn of ’88. We is Charle Raye and me. I married Charle out of high school at eighteen just March mad in love with the boy, and there wasn’t any dissuading us. It weren’t any shotgun wedding. We was ten years into our marriage ‘fore I had a first kid in the oven. That was the girl, Amy Sue. We had Charle Junior two years afterward, and then no more in the chute. By Thanksgiving ’88 the girl had turned ten and the boy was on the edge of eight.
Charle had stayed on his dad’s farm first three years we was hitched, but at twenty-one he got his call up greetings from Uncle Sam and hauled off to the Army for two years. It was the concluding years of Vietnam and didn’t seem much purpose for the boys they called those years, ‘cept to be cannon fodder and go die in a losing cause, but Charle had a lot of patriotism flowing through his blood and never much complained, though I did a bunch of praying the whole time.
 Was no trick for me to step over and take up his chores on the farm. Milking and plowing were things I’d done since I was eight. It was a hard hitch for us both, I reckon, but the farming kept me dog tired ev’ry day and I slept through most of the loneliness while Charle sat up in a barracks in Saigon for the last year of his hitch, till his outfit was evacuated out and that sad war came to a end.
When he come home he had no more taste for the farm life. In a couple months he had his Teamsters’ button and started hauling steel up the turnpike; tough life but good money for a twenty-something, and though the overnighters left me lonely much the week, we made it up pretty hot and heavy over those weekends.
Trucking got us right free of our farm roots. In a few years we was able to pick up an old bungalow out on Route 23 up in northern Chester County, just south of Pottstown. Guess the soil swam pretty thick in my blood, though, cause in no time I planted my own truck garden up back of the house and sold the produce from a little stand along the road. Wasn’t but summer money and never ‘mounted to much, still it gave me my own means and staying home never made me feel dependent on Charle, and he never minded either.
I got restless after a couple of winters, him on the road and me only looking after myself for meals and cleanup ‘fore the kids come ‘long. Empty time piled up in my mind like dust, and after a couple of seasons of it, I invested some of my produce money in smalltime franchising and started making the rounds through the cold dead months burping Tupperware at demonstration parties and banking another lightweight income. Went through almost two decade this a way without so much a fluff-cloud in our sky, but I never forgot the lessons of the farming life, so when the storm came I wasn’t taken by surprise. It was long overdue by my mind.
Didn’t right quite see it coming, though. Nineteen eighty-seven had been a banner year. Steel was shipping at double time and Charle was picking up extra runs and fat overtime. It left me high and dry lot of weekends, but it let him pay off his own truck and soon after the green sheet came from the bank he comes up behind and starts nuzzling at my ear.
“Been thinkin’, Bess?”
“’Bout what?”
“How’d you take it if I turned gypsy. Petey Lentz done it last fall an’ he tells me he could hook me up with some guys to run wide-loads and hazmat on a regular basis.”
He kissed my neck. “You done any that?” I asked.
“I’ve done my share of wide-load, but I’d have to qualify for a hazmat license.”
“This get you home more often?”
“Probably not.”
“Okay, I’d probably get sick of seeing your face if it did.”
He laughed and grabbed a hold a me and we was wrestling around and Charle going independent was a settled point.
 Charle figured it would take him a year to pick up the hazmat license and set up contracts to haul, but the whole plan got snatched from him in ’88 when the shipper went under and he was left without a sure paycheck. Never know in this world where the hurricane’s stirring. That year the hurricane was Japan dumping steel in the Midwest and it spread a deadly virus of cheap prices that weakened and killed one big steel works after another, like flicking fleas off a drowsy hound.
Didn’t seem too bad for a while. Charle build rail sides on the flat bed. He let the kid’s stand up on the bed and hand him the tools. Being away as much as he was, he did what he could to get close to the kids from birth upward when he was home. He got jobs hauling Tomatoes out a Lancaster county to the ketchup factories on the west side of the state over the summer, and with school out, he even hauled the kids along a couple times, letting them have the bunk and he slept across the seats. When autumn come with the crops harvested and the fields empty, Charle couldn’t get any loads of nothing but air and pretty soon he’s just sitting home or puttering on the truck.
Course end of summer was the end of my little roadside stand and my truck garden, too. I was just left with the Tupperware parties and what orders I could ring out of that. Problem being there never was enough to call that a living. Just a bit of mad money really, maybe enough to buy us a night on the town occasionally or get the kids new shoes come a school year. Now it was being stretched to keep some soup and bread in the panty. Worse to it was my income was dropping in that business for much the same reason we was needing it so bad. Most my customer list were fellow highway cowboys or assembly line men from the steel fabrication mills up in Pottstown. Fabricators were moving out to the Midwest to where the Japanese shipments was landing, cutting the hauling cost down, and a lot of our friends were cast off in the same leaky boat as us.
Well, that boat hit a shoal ‘bout Thanksgiving. I’d been snitching away the dinner makings for weeks and we had a whoop and holler Thanksgiving making pretend that we had things to be thankful for and digging out the Christmas music.
Charle and I done the dishes and was sitting on the sofa when Amy Sue, with Charle Junior in tow, plopped an old photo album on my lap opened up on a faded black ‘n’ white photo.
“Who’s those people?” she asked.
“The little girl’s your grandma and the man was her daddy.”
“Why’s their tree outside?” asked Charle.
I looked close at the picture. In the distance I seen the ragged edge of the corncrib and a run of rail fence along the cow pasture. Most the background was a blur of white making it hard telling sky from ground snow. My ma and grandpa stood next to a little tree trimmed in popcorn strings, kibble balls and suet. A tinfoil star was on the tippy top.
“That’s the bird tree,” I said. “Every Christmas eve they use a go up a bit from the farm yard and decorate a tree with treats for the winter birds.” Ma had done the same for a time when I was young, but then it got forgot about and I hadn’t given it any mind since I was a teenager.
“You kids wanna go see Santa Claus tomorrow?” Charle asked.
“Yeah, yeah”, they shouted.
“Then you scoot yourself off to bed now and I’ll take you into town in the mornin’”
They both ran off to bed and I closed the album and set it on the coffee table.

Charle still held hopes for Christmas. Counting out our dwindling savings at the bank he figured we could get the kids a few descent gifts if he could get food stamps to supplement our grocery needs for a few months. He went into the government office that Monday to make application, but came home empty of pocket and cursing Uncle Sam down to Blue River and back.
“Gave me this here long paper of questions to answer. Asked for things like ‘own a home’ and ‘list vehicles’. Put down the old Ford and the Brockway and turned it in. Then this here woman gives it a look over and starts askin’ me stuff.
“ ‘You own this truck,’ she asked.
“ ‘Yes m’am,’ I said.
“ ‘You’ll have to sell the truck.’
“ ‘Sorry, m'am, what? Sell my truck?’ I says.
“ ‘You have a major asset here, sir. You can sell the truck and live on that. That runs out, come back and we can help.’
“That’s government backward logic for you. Sell off your livelihood ‘till you’re dirt poor rather than give you a bridge over a gully to ground you can plow.”
Men like Charle don’t cry in the night. Those tears were there though. I could see them there behind his eyes, but he sucked them in and swallowed. I knew what he was thinking. How we gonna explain a Christmas with no Santa to the kids. One thing having kids, you puts your energy in worrying ‘bout their world and don’t never have time to feel sorry for yourself.
“I’ll take care of Christmas, babe,” I told him, holding his hand, knowing he didn’t know why I said such a thing. He nodded anyway. I smiled and patted his hand, but truth be told, I didn’t have no idear what I could do.
I walked away and stared out the window so he didn’t see the doubt on my face. Clouds had been thick’ning all days and now I seen the wind was kicking up a fuss.
I thought ‘bout the first year Charle started driving truck and we had moved off his dad’s farm and got an apartment over a candy store in downtown Pottstown. Only year of my life I was a city girl. Most the people I met there had been townies all their born days and you don’t learn much from studying pavement all your youth as you do scrabbling crops out of dirt. Those neighbors got the Fogtown blues if a purple cloud drifted across the sun. I knew that old dark cloud might be the drink a good crop needed to sprout. This cloud I saw this a night was the start of a nor’easter ready to drop a ton of snow across the county and close most the roads out our way. That was our crop cloud for a bit.
It didn’t make for a big pot of pennies, but Charle was able to hitch up a plow to the tractor of his truck and pick up enough county road clearing money to keep the bill collectors at bay and keep some eats on the stove. Still didn’t stretch much toward the kind of Christmas your kids expect. There were no fat for presents and Christmas’ trimming once you paid off the electric company and the mortgage banker. And there weren’t some endless chain of snow-drifted roads to run up the bank account into January either. By Christmas week we was back to feeling behind sofa cushions for enough change to assure a Christmas turkey.
On the day before Christmas Eve I was cleaning up the living room. I picked up the photo album still on the coffee table to take back to the hall closet. When I lifted it a loose photo slipped free and floated to the floor. I picked it up and it was another old sepia colored photo of my grandparents and mother when she was a child. My mother sat at the feet of her parents, who sat in rockers in the old farmhouse parlor. A spate of toys lined the floor at the foot of the Christmas tree, a fluffy-haired rag doll, an ancient looking toy fire truck, a little corral of wooden farm animals and a miniature barn. My grandfather had handmade them all.
I sat down and found the page where the photo belonged, then I flipped through the book getting idears.
Next hour I’m up in the attic moving boxes here and about, searching through trunks and long ignored cartons. I knew the things was up there some place, but hadn’t given them a thought in years, but it hit that the answer to my promise to Charle was tucked away someplace under the dust and spider webs.

Christmas eve came a crisp, clear evening and a sky of stars that sparkled like tinsel on black felt. Been a full moon day before and you still had it ninety-seven percent full face and it sparkled across the icicles on the eves and gave the snow a blue hue. Anybody out along the road that night would a said they seen a bunch of crazies hiking up the hill an hour ‘fore midnight carrying a picnic basket and toting a sled piled high with blankets and a grocery bag.
We parked ourselves at the peak and then wrapped the kids up in blankets. I pulled the contents outta the grocery bag and Charle and I set to trimming a little pine that grew along the hill ridge. We hung garlands of strung popcorn and balls of suet. Then we sat down on the blankets and had a picnic supper of cold chicken, pickled eggs and potato salad and waited the midnight hour and the opening minutes of Christmas. Felt like some ancient shepherd tending my sheep; felt like the glittering stars were those old hosts of angels.
“You lookin’ for Santa?” asked Amy Sue.
“Looking at the angels,” I said, and she give me a tilted head look and a puzzled eyebrow. “But you can look for Santa. I bets you we get home Santa’ll already been there.”
Before we had left the house on this madness I had snuck down the box I’d found up the attic and arranged the corral of animals and the wooden barn, the fire truck and the other treasured toys ‘bout the tree.
At midnight, we stood on the hill before our little wild Christmas tree singing “Once Upon a Midnight Clear” and a gazing across the valley at the holiday lights on farm roof and post. You could see the colors spread out for miles, a mix of green and blue and red and yellow and purple, some a blaze all red and some a glowing a moody blue.
Don’t have much more to say. Ain’t gonna tell you that was the best Christmas we ever had. Had better ones before and better ones since, just like those changes of weather, storms and sunshine, bright days and blue nights and all of life as life is. Did revive a family tradition, though. Ev’ry year after, we’d all hike up the hill on Christmas Eve and decorate that tree with treats for the winter birds and the squirrels.

Amy Sue’s off to college in Philadelphia and Charle Junior’s out of high school and got a job as a bag boy in the Pottstown Super Fresh. We weather the seasons come what may and Charle and I still carry on the tradition, and those old toys are stored back up in the attic again for the next generation. Like next month’s forecast, you never know, so rest your self a bit and hear the angels sing.

O ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

--It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks Giving

Today is Thanksgiving. This is not a Greek word meaning "sales tomorrow, football tonight". It is two words run together and should be a time of reflection as well as of family and/or friends.
Mr. Turkey is probably not so thankful that an oven will warm him today. We, ourselves, are thankful with the temperature going up to only 36 degrees today that our heater is on its job, because our heater went out the day before Thanksgiving a couple years ago and the repairperson couldn't come for several days. But then we were grateful we owned a lot of blankets.
(It is 31 right now as I prepare for my morning walk, but be grateful it'll get above freezing after all yesterday's rain).
My wife and I and daughters are going out for dinner this year. My wife's reached a point she can't do two big dinners so close together. We use to have my parents here for Thanksgiving. When they got elderly,  they didn't want to make the car trip here, especially since they would be going home after dark. They use to take us out to a restaurant on this day, but since my daughters generally worked at the shelters on Thanksgiving (they volunteer so others could spend the day with their families and they still do) it mades it hard to schedule a reservation.
My parents passed away last year, but we are thankful they had a long and happy life together. (She was 92 and he was 94.)

We talk about the First Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims and the proclamation of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. (For a thorough history of Thanksgiving in America, go to Jeff Jenkins'  "Thoughts and Theology" Website) 
But giving thanks to God for our blessings goes back far before there was an United States. For instance, read these instructions for thanksgiving in the Law (Leviticus 7: 11-15)

" 'These are the regulations for the fellowship offering a person may present to the LORD :
" 'If he offers it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering he is to offer cakes of bread made without yeast and mixed with oil, wafers made without yeast and spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour well-kneaded and mixed with oil. Along with his fellowship offering of thanksgiving he is to present an offering with cakes of bread made with yeast. He is to bring one of each kind as an offering, a contribution to the LORD; it belongs to the priest who sprinkles the blood of the fellowship offerings. The meat of his fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; he must leave none of it till morning."

Now as to our meat today, since we will be eating at a restaurant, I will miss the leftovers for the morrow, for my son and I love cold turkey sandwiches.
In all seriousness, here are some passages to ponder today:
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. Psalm 95: 1-3
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1-3

The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp. He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. Psalm 147: 6-8
"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD." Jonah 2:8-9
(See, you can even give thanks in the stomach of a fish.)

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19-20

It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:1-15

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16-17

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men –the testimony given in its proper time. 1 Timothy 2:1-6

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 1 Timothy 4:3-6

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. 
   Amen!" Revelation 7:11-12

And may you all have a great Thanksgiving Day basking in the glow of all you have to be thankful for.  Amen?

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Ago Today: Reflections on a Friday

November 22, 2013, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. This piece was written the evening of November 22, 1963. It describes that afternoon when we learned of this. John Kennedy had been President for less than three years at that time and was concerned about the election year coming up. When you read the article keep in mind that JFK was not liked by everyone, in fact, it was not at all certain he would win re-election in 1964. Don't be shocked that there was joking and even expressions by some of being glad this happened. This is not a fiction, but simply a recording of what occurred when the news came in to the office here I worked and the reactions of those around me.

November 22, 1963, Malvern, Pa.

         Lunchtime, I sat at my desk with the Philadelphia Daily News across its top. The headline read
“Baker’s Pal’s Widow Denies Suicide Link.” A picture of a woman was on the left.  On the right was one of Jackie Kennedy, with the President standing just behind her. She was speaking in Houston, Texas.
One o’clock, and I was supposed to be back on the job, but I went out to cash my paycheck and do a little shopping with my friend, Dave Claypoole, and was late to eat. I skipped the news and turned to the editorial page to read the letters. Even the usual crackpot letters were dull. I flipped further back and read the comics. My lunch was finished so I stuffed the paper into a drawer, put my empty soda bottle in the wastebasket and returned to sorting the index cards I had been working on before lunch.
As I sorted, a simple matter of putting them in numerical order, I planned for the coming weekend.  First, we would get groceries. Then I would get a haircut while my wife, Lois Jean, shopped. Saturday I would get up early to change a bad tire on our car and then I would take Lois Jean bowling. In the evening we would go to a drive-in movie. Sunday I hoped to get my studies finished and work on a story I was writing.
As I outlined my weekend, time was flying on its way through the afternoon. I was tired of looking at numbers and glanced at the wall clock. It was eleven minutes until two o’clock. At almost the same moment, Bob Keifer, a fellow worker, came by my desk. We had become good friends during the year and he often stopped at my desk with a new joke.
“Did you hear? They shot Kennedy.”
I waved away his joke with my hand. “Aw, come on, Bob.”
But he circled around to the side of my desk. “I’m not kidding.” He had a strange smile on his face
 So I still didn’t believe him.
“They’ve shot Kennedy. If you don’t believe me, ask Bill.”
I decided to take him up on this dare. Bill Mayberry was fanatical about John F. Kennedy. He had worked as a volunteer for Kennedy during the election and he never ceased praising the President. He had a large picture of Kennedy taped to his desk and a habit of whistling, “Hail to the Chief”.
“That’s Jack’s favorite song,” he would tell us.
I walked briskly, although not with urgency, toward the front of the mailroom where Bill had his desk. Before I reached him, I overheard a conversation between two mail boys. I did not catch the actual words, but I did hear something about the President and a shooting.
Now I could see Mayberry. He was sitting still with an expression as if his brain had short-circuited. I wanted to know what had happened, but I could not approach Bill after seeing his face. I went over to the mail boys. I did not notice who was saying what.  It was a jumbled, boiling conversation. Much of the afternoon was that way.
Sometime in this same general period, covering three minutes perhaps, the mail truck returned from a trip around the company offices. It passed by me.
“Is he dead?” somebody asked.
“I heard he was in serious condition,” said a voice behind the truck.
Bill stood and moved into the open area of the room. He was shaking his head slowly. He might have said something. I don’t recall if he did.
Someone else was speaking.
“I hear he’s dead. And his wife and some governor are in critical condition.”
I turned toward the sound, never seeing who was speaking. I asked, “They got his wife?” I felt a quick shiver in my backbone.
“That’s what I heard,” said a voice.
“I heard they missed him,” said another unseen. Voices were in the air, like spirits come to confuse mortal men.
A new mail boy named Jim Curtain entered the room, chattering like a small boy announcing information he isn’t supposed to have, saying over and over, “They got him with machine guns. I heard he was sprayed with bullets.”
Mayberry confirmed the rumor in a low murmur.  “He was shot.”
Curtain was flitting about an older boy named John Pal, asking John about a certain caliber of Browning rifle. “That’s a machine gun, isn’t it? It’s an automatic. Don’t you have to use a tripod to shoot it?”
Still at this point, no one really believed it had happened. At least, no one believed the worse. We were beginning to accept the rumor the President had been fired at, but we doubted the rumors of his death or injury was true.
It couldn’t have been more than ten or fifteen minutes since Bob Keifer had first stopped at my desk when it crossed my mind to call my wife. She might have the TV on and know more than we did. I got the company operator on Mayberry’s telephone.
 “Is this a personal call or…”.
“Personal, yes.”
“I’m sorry,” she seemed angry, “we can hardly get business calls out under the circumstances let alone personal.”
I hung up and walked to my own section. I could not work without knowing more about the rumors. The deaf man, who ran a stuffing machine, George Taylor, asked me what had happened.
“They shot the President,” I told him.
“Is he dead?”
“I don’t know.”
I returned to the front of the mailroom and Bill Mayberry had left for lunch.  The latest rumor was the President and his wife were alive and all right, as well as some Senator who had been wounded. There was a knot of mail boys talking at the front of the room. I saw Bob Keifer and, I believe, John Pal. George Johl was working not too far away. George was another close friend. He was a family man, holding down two jobs and going to night school, and a Negro with strong loyalty to Kennedy.
I went to the group and said to Bob, “I wonder if Bill will be heading out for revenge?”
“He went home to get his gun,” said Bob, then he turned to George Johl.  “See what you caused, see what your people caused?”
Suddenly bad taste had taken a hold of the room. It was strange, people telling cruel jokes at such a time, but I think it was because we wouldn’t accept the idea such a thing could happen. It must  just be a bad-taste joke as well.
A Federal Mailman came through the supply room from outside dragging a dirty gray bag of mail. He was grinning.  He dropped the bag and pointed at Bob Keifer.
“Why’d you do it?”
Bob kind of laughed, eyes wide, throwing up  his palms. “I didn’t do it.”
“Sure,” said the mailman. He looked at the rest of us. “He did it,” he said. “You did it.” No one spoke. he looked around. “I’m kidding. But I know who did it.”
“Who?” asked one of the girls.
“His wife was going to,” said the mailman, looking at her, “she would have.”
I was stunned by the broad grin on the mailman’s face as he explained how Jackie hated Jack and had plotted his death. “I’m glad it happened, the mailman said.”
I stood and listened. I wanted to slug the man, but one doesn’t do that in real life, do they? The mailman left.
I murmured to Bob, adding my own prejudice to the rumors, “And you wondered what Johnson was doing?”
Bob had asked only the other day what the vice-president was doing these days.  Johnson’s invisibility was a common joke. Now I was hinting that he had been plotting this crime. But perhaps, considering the rivalry and the location, it wasn’t so uncommon to say such a horrible thing.
Now speculation about the motives and who might have done it multiplied. Somebody thought it was a Cuban plot. Bob felt it had been a Negro group in Brooklyn.
“The Black Muslins?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“They’re not just in Brooklyn,” I told him.
“I know,” he said.  “They’re everywhere.”
An idea came to me. “Hey,” I said, “Edwin Walker! Isn’t he down there in Dallas?”
“Yeah, that’s his territory,” said Bob.
“Could be those nuts. Look at what happened with Stevenson.” [Note: On October 24, 1963 U. N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson arrived at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium to make a speech and was attacked by a large mob of General Edwin Walker's followers.]
Speculation was beginning to repeat itself. I decided to visit my friend Dave Claypoole in the payroll department to see if he had heard anything. It seemed an eternity until an elevator arrived in the lobby.
I took the elevator, which was crowded. There were three women and at least as many men in it. As we ascended everybody was silent until we reached the fourth or fifth floor and then one of the women mentioned something about the President being wounded in Dallas.
“He’s dead,” said a man.
“Uoh!” gasped the woman. “He’s dead?”
“That’s what I heard outside,” said the man.
Another man nodded his head. “I understand he was shot three times in the head.”
I got off and found Dave in his office. We both went down to the cafeteria and had a cup of coffee. I leaned against the machine that dispensed the coffee.
“Bad news. This is bad news,” I said.
All of a sudden I was shaking. I could feel it in my legs and stomach. It was a quivering, as if I was outside on a cold day.
A woman walked toward us, as if seeking news.
Dave tossed his arms up and open, speaking in a louder than normal voice. “Well, is this our chance to take over?”
The woman gave him a look of distaste. She hurried away. His words panicked me. I spun toward him. I began pacing with my hands in my pockets, trying to get rid of the cold I felt. I was shaking my head, sucking in on my lower lip. “What a sense of humor,” I said.
“I’m surprised it got you so shook up,” he said. “You didn’t agree with Kennedy’s policies.”
“But he is the President.”
We went back upstairs. I was still shaking. A woman passed us. “It’s true,” she said, “that was my mother. She said she heard he’s dead.”
The girl just inside the payroll room spoke, “I have a friend who use to work on the Inquirer. She knows someone there. Somehow she got through to them. They say he’s dead.” She told us somebody else was critical and we thought she said Jackie.
I left Dave and caught a down elevator. People got on and off. Two men were talking, smiling, joking. Other people were calm and normal. One carried coffee. Everybody hadn’t heard yet.
Back in the mailroom, I found Bob. “Let’s see what Russ says?” We found Russ Weeks, who just returned from lunch.  He had a radio and most of the mailroom was grouped around him.
Russ was just breaking away from the group when we got there.  His radio was not working. “He died, I understand,” he said.
It seemed certain by this time that the President had been shot and was probably dead.  It was confused whether anyone else had been shot.
Someone told Russ that Mayberry had left.
“Did he? Has anyone checked to see if he chartered a plane to Dallas?”
“No, but he went home to get his gun.”
Russ shrugged. “It’s a shame he got shot on a Friday,” he said over his shoulder, “otherwise, we might have least got a day off out of it.”
It was useless to try to work, but equally as useless to stand around. I started back to my desk again and was stopped by George Taylor.
“Ya know,” he said, “they were goin’ ta have steak. Somehow the Pope had made it a special Friday so they’d have meat. I don’t know what was the reason, but the Pope made it so they could eat meat.”
“I’ve heard they have certain Friday’s they can eat meat.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not Catholic so’s I don’t know what they called it, but the Pope said they could have meat today.”
“I’m not either,” I told him.  “I don’t know myself.”
“Well, ya know,” George lowered his voice; “the chef down there at the place in Dallas wanted to put this large special steak aside for Kennedy. The Secret Service wouldn’t let him. They told him to put it with the others. You cook up 3,000 steaks and we’ll pick one out.”
I kept nodding.
George went on. “Ya know, it’s funny. Just two days ago this turkey farmer wanted to give him a forty-pound turkey. Kennedy told ‘em to give it back to the man who raised it.”
Russ Weeks came in the back door. He stopped between us.
“They got the radio on out there,” he said. “One of the priests they called to perform the Last Rites said he’s dead. It’s still unofficial, though. But why would a priest lie?” He went up front.
George leaned toward me. “What he say?”
I told him. George shook his head. I followed Russ to the front. The mail girls were chatting to one side.
“I think if he was dead, Bill’s wife would have called,” said one.
"Not necessarily,” I told her, “you can’t get through. I tried to call my wife and they wouldn’t let me through.”
Jim nodded. “That’s likely.”
Somebody else, "You can’t even get a dial tone,”
Jim and I went over to Russ, who began talking right away.
"It used to be when something like this would happen, the newspaper would get out extra editions. I remember when you used to hear boys calling ‘extra, extra’ up and down the street. But now…”
I said the papers put out so many editions they didn’t need extras. But Russ had his own explanation.
“TV and radio get it so fast that the papers aren’t necessary to inform the people anymore. We were at the Cathey Teahouse when we heard. The waiters came around to each table and said the President had been shot. They said they would turn on the TV for news. It was something. The whole place went silent. The waitresses moved slowly, trying to be very quiet. Everybody just sat and listened.”
“I wish we’d get the story clear,” I mumbled.
“I don’t know how they feel upstairs,” said Russ, “but I think we should be allowed to go home.”
Mayberry’s wife called, getting through somehow, and after Russ told her Bill had left and hung up, he, Jim and I began talking about whom might have done it.
“I don’t think it was a Cuban," Russ said. “I think the anti-Castro Cubans hated Kennedy more that the pro-Castro.”
“I hope it’s a nut,” I said, “I hope it’s just some nut.”
They agreed. Russ spoke. “If the guy was with some group it would be bad. If it was a colored guy, they’ll be a lot of colored people killed. If it was a white guy doing it for the Negroes it’ll be just as bad. If it’s a Cuban, a lot of people’ll want to wipe out Cuba. I don’t think we would invade Cuba, but a lot of people would want us to.”
“That’s why I hope a nut did it on his own.”
“But if this is a group, I’m afraid there will be a lot of violence,” said Russ.
A new report reached us. It said the President was dead, the Governor of Texas was critical, Johnson was having a heart attack and was probably wounded. It was also reported that a German Musser rifle had been found on the sixth floor of some building. Three shell casings were nearby and one unfired bullet was in the rifle. It was believed this meant the assassin meant to get Johnson too.
Bill Mayberry returned and reported they had caught the assassin.
“He’s twenty-five and white,” he said.
More and more people knew. It was about three o’clock. There was anger and joy, rumor and speculation. I asked to go home and was allowed. I caught the train and the entire trip I read and reread the headline on the Evening Bulletin: