On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Monday, December 30, 2013

Heaven on Earth: A Book Review

An author myself, I am keenly aware of fine writing, and writing which brings new light to a well-worn subject is particularly interesting to me.  Recently, I was privileged to view a video presentation by the author of the book I will be reviewing.  It was such an informative discussion on the subject, I wanted to read the book itself.  From that, I considered the message worth repeating. And though some might look at this and see it is mainly concerned with Lutheran liturgy, in a sense the book applies to virtually all Christian liturgies that follow a prescribed Biblical form of worship.  

Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service by Arthur A. Just Jr., may be found tucked away on church library shelves among other resource books.  It contains a thorough, historically accurate discussion on the roots and purpose of Lutheran liturgy, in particular, and even the liturgy of other churches whose origins may seem to be obscure. Not a dry, overly studious history, this book instead employs clear language and striking images to illustrate how liturgy has evolved and is practiced today.  And it is this traditional experience of Holy Communion which lifts us, Dr. Just asserts, into the realm of the transcendent God whom we find at the altar.

The Rev. Dr. Just of Concordia Theological Seminary, first shows how the Jewish worship traditions at the time of Jesus have influenced our own worship elements. He covers the first gatherings of smaller Jewish communities in homes which graduates to temple worship with more defined structure. Then he moves on to a change in the worship structure: the familiar “table worship” instituted by Christ himself.  Ultimately, Dr. Just details the apocalyptic nature of Christian worship that permeates the liturgy. 

It is through the Bible that we should understand how to undertake the sometimes disputed organization of the Divine Service, Dr. Just says. Despite or because of the “worship wars” in the church during the late twentieth century, Lutheran liturgy, as an obvious example, seems to have settled down to a new understanding of its importance to the culture of today.  Instead of trying to adapt the liturgy to a changing culture, we now understand the real role of liturgy is to bring the world into alignment with Biblical teachings. The impact of truthful interpretation of Scripture in our worship is critical, but the liturgy goes beyond a method to move through the service. Instead, Dr. Just calls the impact of our liturgy “a divine invasion . . . an alien invading our space.” 

As Christ himself broke through in his first incarnation, so does He break through from heaven to earth and back again in Holy Communion. Our liturgy of Divine Worship, then, is both physical and cosmic, says the author, and therefore apocalyptic, fulfilling its purpose to involve us in the mystery of the Creator “with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven.”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas at Rosehall

(The following is an excerpt from the novel, Rosehall.)


What with Jenny Lou’s condition being so serious, Christmas drew closer with Becca hardly being conscious of the season.  The girl was due home from the hospital a week before the holiday, and as Becca made plans for her return she was suddenly brought up short by the fact she’d bought little or nothing for the family.  She’d spent most of her days at the girl’s bedside, letting the house go hang.  Her overriding concern at the moment was Jenny’s dullness, her empty eyes.  Despite constant soothing words from her mother, telling her news and reading stories, the child was almost catatonic, the doctor said.  Her trauma had been so severe, she couldn’t face it consciously, so she’d retreated into a world of shadows and quiet, numbing her to any stimulus.  It was heartbreaking.  Others from the family had come to the hospital for brief visits--all but Edward, who maintained his solitary drinking while pleading ill health--but they, too, became discouraged.  Now they could only hope once Jenny returned to Rosehall, she’d gather her wits about her and recover more quickly.
          But a nagging doubt about Jenny’s recovery pulled worry to the forefront of Becca’s mind like matted yarn.  The worry was dense and tangled with the idea of weakness in the Thorpes.  Miss Mitty had it; she hadn’t been able to get hold of herself after her own trials.  And there was that haunting story of Carrie in the attic.  So long ago, but now so real.  The weakness seemed to run through the generations of Thorpes like cockroaches in the kitchen. It hid itself and multiplied and then would finally trickle out in one poor soul or another, but by then it was too late.  Would Jenny have the mental strength to rid herself of the sickness? 
          Becca finally began to organize for Christmas.  Trey and David were commissioned to find the right size cedar tree to cut and set up in the front parlor.   She wanted it big--almost touching the tall ceiling and so spectacular Jenny would gasp at the sight of it.   While Jenny slept, Becca went shopping. 
          She found bargains, being it was so close to Christmas.  A warm pair of lined leather gloves for Mama Kate, a new sewing basket for Miss Mitty, an antique silver box for Charles, a shirt and sweater vest for Edward.  But the children’s gifts had her stumped.  She finally settled on a hunting bow for Trey.  He would be careful, already trained by Edward in one of his more lucid periods to hunt with Edward’s own rifle.  Jenny, she was afraid, wouldn’t take an interest in much.  What could she get her that might open her mind again to pleasure? 
          Then she remembered that the prized lavaliere had been lost from the time of Jenny’s attack.  Becca went to Bishop’s Jewelers and looked among the cases for something that would suit the girl.  She hadn’t that much to spend, but she thought she could go as high as twenty dollars.  She saw the perfect thing in the second case.  Mr. Bishop drew it out for her and set it on a black velvet pad.  She picked it up by the delicate gold chain and swung it so the crescent of pearls caught the light.
          “Beautiful!” she exclaimed. 
          “Pink seed pearls in a 14 karat, pink gold mounting,” Mr. Bishop said proudly. 
          Becca reached timidly for the little tag that told the price, and her face dropped.  It was marked $59.95.  “Oh, my,” she said.  “That’s too dear.  And I wanted something special for her, too.”
          “For your little girl?” the jeweler asked softly.  The whole town seemed to be aware of the attack though nothing had appeared in the paper.
          Becca nodded and returned the necklace to the velvet pad..
          “I think I can do better on this for you.”  Mr. Bishop held it in his hand as if weighing it and said, “How would you go for $17.95? There’s a huge markup in jewelry, you know.  That’s us jewelers’ little secret.   I’ll throw in gift wrap.”
          “Why that’d be perfect, Mr. Bishop.  Thank you kindly.”
          “No problem, it’s about time it went on sale.  It’ll suit her coloring, won’t it?”  He hesitated.  “I hope your girl does right well now that she’s home.”
          Becca thanked the man and left with a lighter heart.
          Christmas Day dawned sunny but cold.  Becca made a fire in the fireplace to take the chill off the room and then stepped across the hall to knock on David’s door.
          He answered it in his bathrobe.  “I’ve been lazy this morning,” he apologized, looking down at his pajama legs beneath the robe.
          “I would be too if I could get away with it.  Trey’s chomping at the bit.  So you’d best come on now for the present opening.  We’ll eat at noon.  For now, just throw on your clothes and come to the parlor.”  She’d begun bossing him like the others.
          “Yes, ma’am,” he saluted.  “I’ll get ready.”  He started to close the door as she turned away, but then called out, “Becca?  Can I do anything to help you?  With the dinner, I mean.   I’d like to help.”
          She nodded and smiled.  David could cheer her up faster than anyone.  “Good.  Come on to the kitchen after presents time and I’ll give you an apron.”
          She noticed Edward slouched in the corner of one of the sofas and felt an ache for what should have been between them but wasn’t. 
          Now she looked at Jenny Lou sitting beside her grandmother and her heart swelled with hope.  One of the fruits of this unhappy marriage.  Maybe the memories of past happy Christmases would break through and help the girl to heal.  She was so silent and dull.
          “Let Jenny Lou open hers first,” Trey suggested generously.  He’d been hefting and shaking his packages repeatedly for the last few days.
          Everyone agreed that would be appropriate, so her mother handed Jenny the little package tied in the big shiny silver bow.  The girl managed to unwrap it herself, but her face showed no anticipation.  When she opened the velvet box, she only looked at the lavaliere, until Becca told her to take it out.  She had to be helped, though, since the chain was hooked behind some tabs to keep it in place.
          “Do you like it, honey?” Becca asked anxiously.
          Jenny Lou gave her mother a long look and then turned her attention on the lavaliere.  But she only nodded.  At least that was something, a response.
          A deep, collective sigh seemed to go around the room.
          “Do you want to wear it, darling?”  Her grandmother leaned over to fasten it around her neck.
          But Jenny drew back.
          Becca signaled Mama Kate not to press her and placed it in the box for the girl.
          The moment had passed, and Jenny remained quiet and unimpressed with her other gifts as well as the loud exclamations and laughter from the others that punctuated opening the remainder of the packages.  Most of the presents betrayed a lack of funds, but a certain originality.  Miss Mitty constructed all her items from scraps, even giving David something he had to be told was a “pipe cozy.”  Charles had carefully selected items from his “collection” and parted, no doubt painfully, with those he thought might be appreciated by others.  Even Edward had made some small efforts to keep in the spirit of the occasion--candy for Mitty and his mother, a silk scarf for Becca, ties for Charles and David.  And David, too, had done well in remembering the family and their needs.  He bought personalized cocoa mugs for the children and a German coffee maker as a house gift.  “Of course,” he joked, “it’s totally selfish, since I intend to use it without fail every morning,” 
          Jenny had been taken to her room before dinner, too weakened from the activities to eat with the others. 
          Becca’s Pa would be dropping by any minute to give the children their gifts.  He’d been invited to partake of the Christmas meal, but typically for that independent cuss, thought Becca with a smile, he’d refused.
          “I know what I like and it don’t include sitting with a bunch of hoity-toity snobs.  I’ll see my grandchildren later on in the day on my own.”
          “I’m sorry Jenny isn’t well enough to bring her to the cabin, Pa.  Maybe in a few weeks.”
          Her pa’s visit had gone well enough with the rest of the household dispersed to their rooms to rest.  Jenny was not brought downstairs again, but instead Nevile Tucker joined his daughter and grandchildren in Jenny’s room where he sat like a resting animal while they opened his gifts and he theirs.  His quiet manner along with his small size seemed to make him a comfortable companion for the children.  They always had looked forward to his gifts, unique and thoughtful.  For Jenny he had put together a little wooden flute or recorder that was perfectly calibrated to a C scale.  Tucker had through the years piped on one, thrilling the children with his talent.
          “I’ll teach you how to play, my girl,” he said, “whenever you’re ready to learn.”
          Jenny set the instrument down beside her on the bed without a word, but she continued to look at it and touch it with her one finger while Trey opened his cache of hand finished arrows fitted with steel points.
          “Them’s for hunting, son,” his grandfather said.  “You’ve got plenty, your ma said, for target practice.  You can come out to the cabin and hunt for varmints anytime, y’know.”
          Becca had knitted her father a muffler and two pairs of socks, beginning her project months before the Thanksgiving incident.  She knew her father appreciated “hand wrought” goods more than “store bought.”  His own profession as country cabinet maker influenced his keen understanding of the time and care given to making even the simplest object.
          Later, Tucker spoke to Becca outside Jenny’s door.  “I want to bring the girl to the Ridge as soon’s she’s able.”
          “Pa,” Becca started to protest, but her father interrupted with a wave of his hand.
 “There’s something about this house that isn’t right for her healing.  I’ll be back in a few weeks and we’ll talk more.”  He left as quickly and quietly as he’d arrived.  No fuss.  That was Pa.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Attic Room (In Honor of Louisa May Alcott)

  As a young girl I was very impressed with Jo, the heroine of Little Women.  I was especially intrigued by the description of the garret where she wrote.  An avid reader of Louisa May Alcott since probably the fourth grade, I had taken to scribbling poems and stories, which culminated with my piece de resistance in the fifth grade.
Louisa May Alcott
     I’d written for a class assignment a twelve-page, slightly over-heated story about six brothers and sisters having to spend Christmas with an aunt and uncle recently arrived from Norway.  Bereft because their parents had to go to the Southwest for reasons of the father’s health, the children ended up with an experience to remember.  My great-grandparents had immigrated from Norway, so I plumbed the memories of various relatives for anecdotes and pertinent holiday details to make my story seem more real.  At my teacher’s request, I read the paper aloud to my classmates amid mixed feelings of embarrassment and pride.
      Afterward, I believed, like Jo, I should have my own quiet, private place to write all those stories that would no doubt someday be published.  So I looked above for a solution–not for divine guidance but to our own attic. This space was a dark and cavernous room, particularly dark where the ceiling burrowed under the eaves.  It was, however, spotlessly clean and had decided possibilities.  I imagined Jo’s own attic was much like ours.  After all, we had an old house, too, built before World War I.
     To reach the attic, one ascended via a treacherously narrow stairway.  In the mind of a ten-year-old girl, that dark passage held uncertain perils--a corner landing that was pitch black, steep stairs, and no rails.  I don’t know what I expected–a criminal lurking in the shadows ready to pounce; a mouse scuttling across my path, though no self-respecting rodent would put up with my mother’s unrelenting attentions;  more probably, a slip of the foot and a painful crash down the stair well.
      A long cord hung from the top of the room to the foot of the stairs and when pulled would turn on the faint light above.  Nine times out of ten, the last person to exit the area would pull too hard and the string would fly back and catch on the steps above.  So I would have to climb with blind eyes, feeling my way on the curving, narrow treads.  Once I arrived at the top, it was not much better, illumination coming from two low windows a great distance from one another and a fifteen watt bulb in the center of the room.
      Nonetheless, because of zealous devotion to my craft, I tried to conquer my fears, seeing a large trunk that would make a fine writing table.  I hauled it to one end of the room near a window within easy reach of a homemade bookcase.  A small stool with a wobbly leg completed my arrangements; the young writer was poised for fame.
     But in arranging my papers, I noticed the trunk had a bumpy top that wouldn’t do at all.  My mother helped me cut out a piece of cardboard for a smooth writing surface but the glow had started to fade.  My work table had become non-authentic.  Would Jo have had a cardboard cutout?  And then the stool, unfortunately, was not suitable for long periods of sitting; it cramped my legs and strained my back to hunch on it.  I found I had to stand up and stretch a lot, albeit carefully, for though I was only five feet, two inches, the ceiling at that point was five feet high.
      What bothered me the most and kept me from writing as prolifically as I had expected was the strange muffled sounds I heard from time to time downstairs.  Bangs and thuds, thin human cries, and the faint ringing of bells (telephone? front door?) all necessitated my running to the edge of the stairs and yelling,”What was that?” or “Did someone call me?”
    I started quite a number of pieces of writing, but it was hard going when my pencil seemed to need sharpening after only a few sentences.  Also, the attic was as quiet as a tomb, and I couldn’t concentrate for lack of the usual distractions.  In fact, time seemed frozen..  How strange to spend long hours toiling over my writing only to be told by my mother when I went downstairs for a drink of water that a mere ten minutes had elapsed since my last visit.
    My writing was dull, unsatisfying; even my memoirs were lacking.  For inspiration I tried to write something based on a title stolen from one of Jo’s early stories, “The Repentance of Lady Clinton,” but I couldn’t decide what she was repenting about and gave it up as a bad job.
    As the summer days grew hotter and hotter, I discovered I could not think or write in the inferno our attic had become.  I moved to the more comfortable dining room table with unspoken relief, my mother diplomatically not saying a word.  The attic room was abandoned forever to old clothes and furniture, never again to be a haunt of the Muse.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Good Doctor: Niels Marius Hansen



            Everyone my age, give or take a few years, can recall experiences of bygone days unlike anything in our current culture.  I’ve written about some of these differences in my blog, but with the advent of ObamaCare, I was reminded of how things were in the mid-twentieth century regarding doctors and doctoring.
            Although “Doc” Hansen delivered me, and he no doubt saw me occasionally for checkups during my infancy, my first memory of him was when I was three or four.  I had come down with strep throat, so painful an experience that it has remained with me indelibly through the years.  I remember, miserable with fever, being held by my mother while she read to me, notably Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses with its appealing cover and illustrations.
            I vividly remember visits from Doctor Hansen every evening on his way home from the office when he would sit beside me on the sofa.  It was there that my mother had placed me to await his ministrations and ultimately to paint my throat.  That was the best and only treatment during those pre-antibiotic days.  His matter-of-fact demeanor, coupled with a whiff of something slightly antiseptic, seemed reassuring to me, though I dreaded the gagging treatment.  He told me, without saying so, that I would soon be all right.  And this attitude remained his stock in trade.
            Doctor Hansen’s home and office were in a section of Des Moines called Snusville, an area settled primarily by Scandinavians and named for the term they gave snuff or tobacco.  (See my novel, Snusville, on Kindle or Nook.) Niels Marius Hansen was Danish-born, immigrating to America when he was nineteen years old.  After making a tough living as a farmhand while learning English, he entered Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, where he met his wife and became a committed Christian.  He went on to get his M.D. at Nebraska Medical School in Lincoln, and eventually ended up in Des Moines, where he practiced medicine until his retirement in 1962. 
            A few years after that when I was married and living in Tennessee, I had my last house call from a doctor, a never-again-to-be-repeated occasion.  Prior to that time, and certainly while I was growing up in Iowa, visits from a doctor were expected though rare.  More often, we visited Doc Hansen's office, which was a small brick structure, only a block from our first house and little more than that from our next one.  Because of this proximity it was natural my parents chose him for our family doctor.  Preventive medicine hadn’t been invented then, so it usually took quite dire circumstances to warrant a trip to the doctor or a house call.  I had chronic bronchitis as a child, which meant I got a cold stethoscope on my chest and cough medicine from him periodically.  As a teenager I remember sunbathing on a cloudy day in April and burned my face so badly my eyes nearly swelled shut.  When I saw Doc Hansen, he uttered a tsk, tsk, and shook his head, but he didn’t scold me.  Instead he said I had second-degree burns and gave me a soothing ointment.
            His style was always understated and to the point.  My brother Ken tells me that when he was in junior high, he was in a fight and cracked a bone in his thumb.  Doc Hansen taped it up with a splint and then showed Ken how to hold his fist the next time he fought so he wouldn’t hurt his thumb again.  He didn’t charge him a thing for the taping and the advice.
            I suppose the good doctor had a more leisurely schedule and less paperwork than the doctors of today, for Doctor Hansen had a number of interests, especially the Salvation Army where he regularly volunteered at the Rehabilitation Center.   He also had an eye for real estate investments.  The former interest was an expression of his devout interest in helping “the least of these,” while the latter was a practical need to supplement a modest income from doctoring.  As a matter of fact, my parents bought their second home from Doc Hansen.
            It was early one Sunday morning in that house when I was twelve years old that I was awakened by a terrible commotion.  Something had happened to my mother, late in her pregnancy, and both my father and brother were trying to help her.  I heard shouts to call the doctor, and that’s when I went under the covers.  I thought my mother had died.  But when the ambulance had taken her off, followed by my father in his car, my brother came in to tell me he’d been cleaning up the blood from a hemorrhage, and now we could only hope and pray our mother would be all right.
            An hour or so later, the phone rang, and my father said Doc had performed a caesarian section and it appeared Mother would survive as would a baby brother.  Occasionally, my mother’s sister would compare unfavorably our neighborhood doctor to those with more prestigious addresses—strangely, since she was married to a Dane—but we would all come to Doc's defense, remembering his swift and skillful work that terrible Sunday morning.
            I heard that after he retired and a widower, he moved to be nearer one of his two daughters in the Northwest, settling on Mercer Island for the remainder of his life.  He died at the age of one hundred, remembered fondly by those he served so well.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Robbie and David: A Story




            Some years ago my husband and I were living on the Texas Gulf coast in a small fishing village located on a series of canals.  It had a diverse population of about two thousand souls--from millionaires with boats so big they had to moor them at the Galveston marina, to college students who traversed the canals with kayaks and canoes.  The only things they had in common was a desire to live on the water and to maintain their much vaunted Texas independence.  Most of us were something in the middle, though, and the general atmosphere was one of friendliness and tolerance.  We had a city government with a mayor and aldermen and a substantial police force, which gave our place the reputation of being the “safest little city in Texas.”  Furthermore, the flat, featureless land that led to the wetlands and from there to the Gulf seemed to give a promise of the ordinary, the expected.   There seemed never to be anything ‘round the bend since there were no bends.
            Within six months of our arriving there, we went as guests of our new friends, Marge and Harry Mason, to the Third Friday Dinner Club, held at the local Community Center.  It was crowded and noisy, not exactly my cup of tea, so ultimately we never joined the group.  That evening, however, as I examined our neighbors at the long table where we were sitting, I noticed a couple at the end, who were distinctive in looks.  He was remarkably handsome, dark-haired, of medium build but strong-looking, as if he worked out.  His name tag said, “David Meador.”  Next to him, wearing a label that announced, “Robbie Meador,” sat an unusual looking woman.  My first impression was that they didn’t quite seem to match up as a couple.  She was as tall as he, sitting down, partly because of her rather out-of-date hairdo, a Gibson Girl, the platinum hair smoothed into a high, immaculate coif.  Her face was very carefully made up and her arched brows gave her a wide-awake look.  Even so, I thought her face had a mask-like quality.  I guessed them both to be in their mid-thirties.  At some point we formally met the couple, and I was struck by David’s animated personality.  He seemed to “carry” them as a couple.  Robbie was nearly mute, though she smiled pleasantly. 
            They stood to go to the buffet line and I could see that Robbie Meador was wearing a pair of off-white silk slacks that matched her tunic.   Her jewelry was impressive, if overdone, many gold chains and diamond earrings.   Asking our hosts about them, I found that Robbie worked, not surprisingly, as a jewelry clerk at a large department store.  David was an English teacher at the community college, about ten miles away, where I had applied to teach part time, also English.  I suspected I might run into him occasionally.  They were a few people in front of us, but I couldn’t help but notice how David carried on conversations with those around him while Robbie stood like a stump–or should I say, a kind of mannequin. 
            I thought no more about the Meadors until a couple of weeks later when I was at the college after completing my classes for the day and returning to my car.  It was a warm day, but the usual breeze made it quite pleasant to walk the grounds, well kept and blooming with plumeria and hibiscus.  Beside the many kinds of palm trees, the scrub oaks and water maples provided much needed shade.  I decided to stretch my legs and take the long way around to my car, going behind the Science building at the far edge of the campus. 
            Following the walk, I came upon a grouping of benches at a small fountain and although he didn’t see me at first, I saw David Meador with his arm around the back of a bench where he and a young woman sat.  I recognized her as another adjunct teacher.  We had been in the same earlier orientation and she had remarked this was her second term of teaching part time.
            David’s face was turned toward the teacher, whose name I couldn’t recall, though I remembered her petite beauty.  She looked to be in her late twenties with a sweet face and short brown hair worn in casual waves.  He seemed to be in an intimate conversation, teasing and animated, so I walked on without acknowledging him, slightly embarrassed, as if I had gone out of my way to spy on him.  But he had seen me and called out a hello.  I waved and smiled and continued on my way.  Thereafter while at the college, I looked particularly to see if David and the little adjunct were seen together again.  Once, I saw him with his arms braced against a wall, enclosing her, if you will, while they spoke.  But he broke away suddenly, and she turned away, looking unhappy.  I still didn’t know her name.
            Robbie, on the other hand, seemed to move openly in my world, both of us attending the evening garden club, and a morning exercise class.  We both worked, along with many others, on the community Fall Cleanup.  On that occasion, she even gave me a ride home from the dumpster where I had deposited some sacks of roadside junk.  The day was again very hot, and she was kind enough to offer me a lift to my home down the long canal.  She, herself, lived on another canal two streets away.  Again, I was struck by her careful makeup and clothing even on a work project.  She wore jeans, but they were beaded at the cuff and she had ropes of coral around her neck.  She really was an amazing looking woman.  I thought at the time about her husband and his apparent dallying with the adjunct.
            Time went on in the fishing village until the end of the semester and the garden club Christmas Party.  Spouses, mainly the guys, since few men attended the club, were invited, and we all went out for dinner at a nice restaurant first, then back to the clubhouse to exchange Christmas ornaments (a tradition) and play some games.  I happened to be in the restroom at the same time as Robbie, and when I commented on how enjoyable the evening was, she agreed but as was her style, said very little else
            David was on hand at the party, looking his usual striking self in black trousers and a white Mexican wedding shirt.  He, like Robbie, was also wearing some gold around his neck, but hers was even more magnificent than usual.  Her dress was pale beige and sparkled with stones.  It exactly matched her hair, and the knot at her crown, on this occasion, was pierced by a rhinestone-studded hair ornament.  Although David couldn’t be called attentive, I could detect no tension in their relationship, and decided I had read into David’s encounters at the college more than was warranted.  Robbie, as I surreptitiously looked her over, seemed to be a little too solemn for the occasion, her carefully made-up eyes a little puffy.  From tears?  I wondered.
            I left off teaching spring semester as we had some traveling to do, which would take me away from home for several weeks at a time.  While at home, however, I continued my activities with my friends, occasionally seeing Robbie and sometimes her and David together at functions or meetings.  Then one late afternoon in March, I got a phone call from my friend Marge, who sounded very excited.   I took the phone outside on the deck and sat down to enjoy a long chat.
            “Do I have something to tell you,” she repeated, almost gasping.  “Harry was on his way home when he saw two police cars and an ambulance in front of the Meadors’s  home.  He stopped to see what was going on, and being an alderman the police let him in.”  She paused dramatically.
            “And . . .” I coaxed.
            “Oh, it’s terrible.  He saw a body with a sheet thrown over it.  Robbie was dead and had just been cut down from the rope still dangling from a beam.”
            At that moment, a group of seagulls discovered a neighbor across the canal cleaning fish on his dock and swooped in, setting up their raucous, hyena-like cries.  The sound of the laughing gulls was not only noisy but seemed irreverent, considering the news I was trying to absorb.  I moved indoors.  “Robbie is dead?  How did it happen?”
             David, apparently, had called the police to break into the house after getting a phone call from Robbie threatening suicide.  The police chief told Harry that David had moved out and was living in an apartment in another town.  He’d left Robbie for someone else, which triggered the event.  But even more shocking to the little group at the scene, and later to those who heard the news second hand, was the unmistakable fact that Robbie was a man.
            “A man turned into a woman–a sex change, you mean?” I asked, incredulous.
            “No.  I mean a man, no more, no less.”
            News of this spread quickly through the community, and the reactions were mixed.  My husband believed he knew it all along.  Friends and neighbors of the couple expressed shock and disbelief, sorrow, and some even anger, feeling it unfair they’d been duped into accepting Robert (for that was his name) as a woman, and I must admit I felt a flash of resentment myself.  After all, hadn’t he used the ladies rest room as if he had every right to be there?  And with women present.  The whole subterfuge seemed ridiculously sneaky and unnecessary.  Why couldn’t Robbie have either come out of the closet openly or gone for the sex change?  How difficult for me to accept that for Robbie life without David was hopeless.  Did she–he, rather, believe he was trapped into loneliness forever, never to find someone who would accept the pretense?  I didn’t know and couldn’t guess, and it all seemed terribly sad and a waste.
             We didn’t attend the funeral, since we were not intimates of the couple, and we also didn’t want to face David, who was acting the part of chief mourner.  He’d moved back into the house, but soon we heard he’d put it up for sale.  Within a few months he’d moved out of the area and, I understood, would be teaching elsewhere.  I later heard at the college he and the adjunct had gotten married and were living north of Houston.  As far as I could tell, the names of David and Robbie were never mentioned again among the residents of the fishing village.