To My Friend Lacey and to Californians everywhere

When I was a kid living in the country, there was a wildfire north of where we lived when I was around seven years old. Papa ordered us all to get something to save and go down into the cellar as a precaution.

I was in panic mode. We didn’t have much to begin with and the cellar was dark and damp and dirty and full of spiders and crawling things. What few clothes I owned were mostly dresses so I certainly wouldn’t have mourned their loss, so I didn’t get any of them. I was too little and bony to carry any pieces of furniture, not that any would fit in that little space. The terrible hard smell of smoke was getting stronger, and I could see the flames far to the north, licking up someone’s grain field like fire-demons from the pits of damnation. Men with hoses and buckets and a water wagon were out desperately beating at the demons and the resulting smoke roiled forth like a blanketing harbinger of doom.

Finally I grabbed up my toy Lassie dog – the most precious thing my seven-year-old self owned, the Keeper of Childhood Whispers and the one companion I could count on – and a copy of the TV guide nearby on the couch. I fled to the cellar with my family. Mama lit a kerosene lantern to save on the flashlight batteries. The feeble light only made the cellar look more forbidding than ever. The walls held wooden shelves filled with canned goods in jars Mama spent all summer preserving, and the top of each jar already had a considerable layer of dust. Spiderwebs caught the lantern’s dull glow and reminded me the web owners were somewhere close, probably even dangling over my head. I scrunched down over my Lassie toy and continued to clutch the small fat magazine. The dirt floor still held the odor of dampness from last spring’s heavy rain, despite Papa’s keeping the door open the entire hot summer to air it out. I closed my eyes and waited.

After what seemed like hours, Papa opened the cellar door and gestured for us to emerge. The fire was halted at the edge of the 40-acre field in front of our house, and we and our neighbors were safe. We left the spiders and centipedes and dusty shelves and dank dirt floor behind, and walked up the steps into the acrid stink of defeated firesmoke. My sisters saw the magazine I held in my hands and of course set about mocking me for it. “If our house burned down we wouldn’t have a TV to watch, so what were you thinking, you dummy?”

I wasn’t ‘thinking.’ I was terrified. I was a child who knew damned well that everything we had was in a four-room wood frame house, a house with no plumbing, bare wires for electricity and a bigass propane tank outside the kitchen. The TV was the most expensive thing we owned and it was a hand-me-down with ancient picture tubes ready to fail at any moment. Five girls’ clothes all fit in a single dresser, and the aged mattresses were lumpy and saggy. The front room furniture had stuffing coming out the worn places of the threadbare coverings, and at least one of Mama’s warped pots and pans had to be placed a certain way on the stovetop until the weight of ingredients kept them stable. All our fiction and reference books and paper dolls and toy horses and notebooks and cigar boxes containing childhood keepsakes were still inside the house. And none of those items, so worn and loved, was anything we could afford to lose. We couldn’t even afford to lose the outhouse, tucked away at the edge of the woods behind us. I was depressed for a long time after that, believing I had done something wrong by not keeping my head and getting something practical, like clothes or cookware or the photo album as my sisters did. I had failed to ‘think properly.’

Flash forward to California. All those homes whose owners worked and struggled in good times and now these precarious times to acquire and furnish and enjoy, are gone. Throwaway items and family heirlooms alike were taken with only ash to replace them. Fire holds no economic preferences, its demons lick up the homes of the wealthy as easily as the homes of the poor. Fire doesn’t care if people had just moved into the neighborhood or had lived in the family home for generations. It indiscriminately destroys.

When I see photos of entire neighborhoods devastated, my heart weeps. When the news cameras interview the survivors and I see the thin veneer of bravery trying to mask complete despair, I ache for them.I can offer you only my sympathy and concern, Lacey, but it is a massive amount of sympathy and concern. Just as when I was a child, there is nothing I can do that could possibly replace the immense loss California faces.

I still have my Lassie toy, restitched and restuffed and with the plastic face waiting for me to figure out a way to re-attach it to its de-flocked body. I have kept it with me for fifty-three more years, through every emotional upheaval and physical pack-and-move and fierce closet-cleaning in my life. If it would make this whole horrible situation reverse and restore the loss, I would gladly offer this precious toy Lassie up to the fire-demons as sacrifice. I know it sounds stupid coming from an adult but the frightened seven-year-old of long ago understand now, and offers it without hesitation.

Stop destroying homes and lives, fire-demons. Stop destroying homes and lives, wind-demons. Stop destroying homes and lives, Demon-in-Chief. If there are demons then there must be angels too.

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Native tongue

Domio (Joe) and Annie Watson started school in the dusty southwest Oklahoma town of Elgin, the oldest two children of their part white, part Muscogee (Creek) family. The Elgin area included families with jobs at the nearby Air Force base. A good many local children of varying Native American descent attended that school too, along with the children of white people.

At home, Domio and Annie’s parents spoke Muscogee as well as English. Domio and Annie spoke both languages, but their younger sisters Ginny and Lela spoke Muscogee almost exclusively. Papa was fluent, and Mama was not as fluent. She understood better than she spoke.

Domio did well at school, even getting moved up a grade early. However he, Annie, and the other Indian children discovered the unpleasant reality of White Men In Power early on in their lives. The teaching staff insisted that only English should be taught at school, so any Indian child caught speaking in his/her native tongue would be punished. Punishment varied anywhere from a scolding to a hand spanking to a board paddling to detention to writing lines, depending upon what the teacher decided was applicable.

Children in trouble are not known to tattle, since children in those days were usually punished when they got home if they got into trouble at school. Papa and Mama didn’t realize what was happening until near the end of Annie’s first year of school. She and her brother proved too honest to not explain why they were reluctant to attend, and why they felt sorry for their sister Ginny who was about to start school that fall.

Papa was furious, but he was also a realist. He was one man against a machine, the machine of government-approved mandate. It was easier for the school to have everyone speak English considering the many different languages at hand – Comanche, Apache, Seminole, Iroquoi, Algonquian, Athabaskan, Caddoan, Iroquoian, Kiowa-Tanoan, Shoshonean, Siouan, Tonkawan, Uchean, and Muscogean. It was simpler for the staff, yes. But it was stunting for the children of those tribes.

Papa sat the family down and issued hard-and-fast rules. There would be no more Muscogean spoken in the home. He would not give white people a reason to punish his babies over who they were. Bad behavior was different and his children already knew they were to behave correctly, but their genetic makeup was beyond their control.

Papa turned to Ginny and said something that stayed with her: “Ginny, from now on you must only speak English. You must learn to speak English better than the white people, BETTER. THAN. THE. WHITE. PEOPLE. You have to do everything better than the white people. You have to be able to beat them at their own game.”

At age five Ginny spoken fluent Muscogean and only a smattering of English words. She had  the summer to catch up to learning English so she would not get in trouble in school. A bright child like her older brother and sister, Ginny was able to adapt but it was stressful to have to learn an entirely different language and re-learn the alphabet.

Little sister Lela was young enough to easily switch to English and their even younger sister Buddy was never taught anything else. They were too young to have straddled the chasm between Acceptance and Disadvantage. Papa would not allow anyone to speak anything but English in front of his children at home, which cut down sharply on non-bilingual visitors after a while. Lela was naturally obedient and never offered any trouble. She got along well with everyone.

Buddy’s little friends at school were all white children. It was not just because Buddy only spoke English, but she looked whiter than her siblings and therefore naturally shunned by the full-blood natives in the area. Buddy did not care. She regularly gave her teachers hell simply by being a rambunctious rebel who talked back, colored outside the lines of life and found methods of disobedience even as she stood in the corner of her first grade class. Being an Indian had less to do with it than simply Being Buddy, but the fact that she passed as white probably played its part.

The youngest Watson child, nicknamed Bird, was eight years younger than Ginny and had no inkling this sort of drama had ever played out in the family. The family moved halfway across the state before Bird was three. Although the children no longer attended a school with such stern language rules, by then the family was all-English speaking and Papa had no intention of turning back. They lived only a pasture and a creek away from their paternal grandmother, who spoke fluent Muscogean and passable English. Grandmother respected Papa’s desire for the children to excel by majority means. From her they picked up a smattering of words in Muscogean but despite the presence of other Indians the children never learned their native tongue. They were not full-blood; they were “light-bloods” and therefore not included in tribal activities as an automatic matter of course.

They weren’t accepted by the white people either. When Bird was six and in the second grade they moved to the countryside, eight miles away. The school was so small there were only four teachers, one teacher for every two grades which shared the same classroom. Second grade was completed with little trouble, but the third and fourth grades were taught by a teacher with a twisted value system. A white boy classmate called Bird “Half-Breed” and other slurs without correction from the teacher. Most of the children in the school hated that teacher but did not dare complain. The Watsons were poor and lived on property the principal owned, so the teacher was not concerned about retribution from the family or their tribe.

Bird suffered from gas since beans comprised the main protein at home. It was embarrassing, whether it was silent or created a sound, but it was nothing Bird could prevent. The teacher allowed her classmates to ridicule her for it and then later shamed her in front of the class for asking to use the restroom. The racial slurs continued, for the full-blood Indian children did not speak up in defense of a lightblood. She also pointedly excluded Bird from simple classroom pleasures like clapping erasers on the stone wall, a favored activity given to her classmates. Teacher seemed to take delight in making Bird stand at the Blackboard of Shame to redo mistakes made on homework or during class. Small slights added up.

It was not an occasional situation. It was every single day.

Bird did not know she could have protested this egregious circumstance because it had been drilled in her since birth to be obedient. Where rebellion had been Buddy’s stock in trade, Bird was led to believe she had to have a spotless record. The older Watson children made mistakes but as the sixth and last child Bird was expected to cause no trouble, to learn from their mistakes and not repeat those mistakes. Some of the Indian families in the area valued good grades, but most simply wanted to make a passing grade and did not understand Papa’s determination to eventually send his children to college. A’s and A+’s were the marks of choice and none of the Watson children were allowed to make below a B in any subject in school. Bird struggled hard to make those grades in order to not shame the family. No one outside the family would have cared, but the family members cared.

“You have to be better than the white people at everything.”

When some of the boys in the fourth grade class cornered her behind a movable chalkboard and made gross sexual remarks and suggestions, Bird knew she had nowhere to turn. She was not allowed to fight in school and the boys were twice her size anyway. She did not trust confiding in the girl schoolmates, who might tell the teacher in the mistaken belief they were helping Bird. And God only knew what sort of reaction the teacher might have – for all Bird knew, the teacher might look the other way and let the boys the carry out their notions. She might even encourage it; that was the sum of Bird’s scholastic experience so far.

Bird developed the remarkable ability of creating a psychosomatic feverish sweat in order to avoid attending school. It was a mild fever of usually 100 degrees but enough to give weight to her claims of malady and the very real tightness in her stomach. Mama worried enough to keep her at home from time to time. Bird realized she had to work on remembering to look ill all day, not an easy feat for a child relieved to not have to attend a place of torment. The summer between third and fourth grade Bird frantically enjoyed her vacation days, but the well child of summer once again became ill in the fall. After a few more times of ‘illness’ and slipups of good health, Mama made her go to the bus stop, now with Annie to make sure she boarded.

Bird eventually resorted to simply avoiding getting on the bus at all. Sometimes she bolted in the middle of the field between the house and the road; sometimes she dashed away from the bottom step of the bus at the last minute, squeezing between the barbed wire and racing for home. By winter Papa was home all the time with hardening arteries and saw for himself how Bird was acting up. They knew she hated school and did not like the teacher, but she offered no elaboration. Day after day Bird slipped from Annie’s grasp at the bus stop only to run into Papa and the fly-back paddle he used for correction. Despite knowing she would be spanked for her transgressions she persisted in the attempt to avoid school. Papa and Mama could not understand it; Bird’s grades were good, mostly A’s and perhaps a B or two, so it was not the dread or inability to do classwork. They finally took her into town to the county-provided social worker.

Bird was tested and interviewed and analyzed. Happy with not having to be at school and given the chance to show she could be a person despite her last place in line, Bird breezed through the tests and finally opened up about her situation. When the social worker met with Papa and Mama, they were told Bird was above average in intelligence and imagination and there was no reason to worry about her academic ability. Rather, her teacher was a source of the problem and the worker explained why.

Thunderstruck, Papa wanted to know why Bird had not told them any of this awful business. The social worker explained the psychology of abuse, and the confusion of a child feeling punished even when following rules. Papa drove Mama and Bird back to school, asking more questions as he drove and getting answers that further enraged him. Once there, he dragged the teacher out of class and into the principal’s office where he railed at the staff, exposing the facts and berating them for fostering this atmosphere of fear. He frightened the teacher with angry, vicious words that burned with blunt honesty. He alarmed the principal, a kind man who realized no one in Papa’s position would risk eviction without just cause. A call to the county social work office confirmed this, and the principal assured Papa and Mama that matters would be rectified. Papa left the school with one last word to the shaken teacher: Don’t ever try to do this shit to my child again, or I will find you.

In the coming days the family asked around and discovered a pattern: every year the teacher chose one girl per class to torment, usually a Native American girl or from an impoverished family; sometimes both at once. A neighbor told Mama her daughter (two years older than Bird) had been the mark during her years with the teacher. Another suspected her child in the third grade was also being targeted.

The teacher was extra careful after Papa’s visit to treat Bird with kid gloves. She sharply corrected the white boy who liked to instigate most of the trouble and never allowed anyone to pick on Bird again, especially herself. It is likely she was afraid of losing her job, with the principal and staff scrutinizing her every move now. Perhaps she finally realized the harm she caused. Perhaps the degree of Papa’s rage and venom made her afraid for her life. Whichever the case, the abuse stopped. Even after Papa unexpectedly died only weeks later, the teacher continued her change of attitude. She even attended the funeral and murmured her condolences to Bird as the child followed the family up the aisle after the service. “I’m sorry for the loss of your father.”

But nine-year-old Bird was not obedient this time; shame was not applicable. Stunned and racked by the loss of her champion, Bird did not accept the sympathy from her former tormentor. She looked her teacher in the eye and bitterly replied, “I just bet you are” and continued her charge out the church door. Later she realized her snap might cause a return to the abuse now that Papa was gone, but it did not happen. Whether it was because the teacher was officially chastised or whether she was terrified that the nerve-prickling sound of the Muscogee language in that church might summon Papa from the Great Beyond, is unknown. What is known that the teacher never allowed Bird to be harassed in her class again. Mama moved the family to another town that summer and Bird never saw that teacher again.


I was Bird. I never felt fully accepted in the white world nor accepted by the Muscogee world during my childhood. My family felt the pressure of shame for knowing a language other than English and in order to try to make a good future possible for his family, Papa made us play the white man’s game. We learned English better than the white people but sometimes even that isn’t enough.

Now replace “Native American” or “Muscogee” or “Creek” with “Muslim” or “Hispanic” and you’ll understand the current problem in the United States. Put any hyphenated-American title in those spots and it’s the same thing, personal anecdotes aside. Bigotry has no place in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Lumping people together under the same heading is not what the Constitution guarantees. As a child I knew there were good white people and bad white people; good Indians and bad Indians. Even “good” and “bad” possess a wide range of values.

We are individuals in a nation born through diversity. Half my ancestors came here as immigrants the my other half met them at the shore. My credentials as an American are solid.

So are the credentials of my fellow Americans. Take away the hyphens, for WE ARE ALL AMERICANS.

Our native tongue is liberty.



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Rage, White and Blue

Today was a day off from work, a surprisingly rainy day for the first time in 100 days, and the combination of free time and staying home meant curling up in a chair and breathing easy. I sat down at my keyboard with the intention to simply post something on Facebook, and apply for a new job here and there. The applications were submitted. The simple post was… not so simple to do. It turns out I had a lot of issues to address.

There were too many news stories pointing out the inadequacies and incomprehensible bullshit emerging from the Trump camp as it attempts to set up its Cabinet. Oh my God; is this really happening? The highest office in the land is going to be handed over to a man who displays no grasp for diplomacy whatsoever? A man who does not even pretend to prepare for the job, who suggested he might turn everything over to his (asshole miscreant bullyboy) Vice President-Elect so he, Trump, can wander off and play President for adoring crowds? A President-elect who goes against every tradition, doesn’t want to live in the White House and won’t pay the estimated $1 million dollars a day bill for his wife and son to live in New York Cit  (and instead will have us taxpayers foot the bill?) Who has lied and backtracked on nearly everything he promised his thick-headed brain-washed supporters?

Hell, I could do a better job as president on Day One, than Donald Trump. At least I know some of the rules and expectations.

So I started posting, replying to comments and carrying on and becoming quite the combatant. I may lose “friends” and I might lose touch with people I only recently became reconnected with again, but if their views are so radically insensitive and – say it; so STUPID – that my blood pressure shoots up into the 160’s, I won’t miss ’em. I don’t have anything to lose, and all I have as a weapon in this war on the future legacy of America is my keyboard and thoughts.


One of the issues that recently came up in the news cycle is that President-elect Donald Trump believes flag-burners should be prosecuted and do jail time, despite TWO (2) Supreme Court decisions that say otherwise as per freedom of speech.

I would prefer that people not burn the American flag in protest. It’s a symbol of the country my father and all the other servicemen in World War II fought for, and of my late godson Mike and his efforts in Iran. But this is a country where people have the right to protest, and burning a symbol is a form of protest.

All-American conservatives think nothing of letting a flag stay out all night or in all kinds of weather despite the flag display rule that says to take it in every night and during inclement weather. It’s okay to use it as a bed sheet or curtain, or even fly it alongside the Confederate battle flag WHICH IS THE SYMBOL OF TREASONOUS ACTION AGAINST AMERICA. Don’t tell me you love this country while you worship a confederacy that tried to overthrow this country. Make up your damn mind; are you in or are you out? If you’re in America, stay in. If you’re not, GET OUT.

However if they are going to insist on not burning the flag I would also suggest that people not use the American Flag as a fashion statement. They don’t want someone who is frustrated by inequality and injustice to burn the flag that symbolizes of a country in the throes of dry-rot, but apparently it’s okay to use the Stars and Stripes designs on things like boxer shorts and bikinis.

I’ll restate that with emphasis: conservatives believe it’s wrong to piss on the flag, but it’s okay to place your bare stanky ass against their symbol of freedom until skid marks appear. They demand that everyone pledge blind allegiance to the flag out of respect, but does that mean we’re to salute if the stripes are going around a firm butt and the white stars on a blue field are cupping a pair of size Ds?

It’s this sort of doublespeak bullshit and cherrypicking preferences that drives me up the wall and makes me start standing up and speaking my mind more than ever.

America is a country with faults – its treatment of Native Americans is nothing but a failure of the democratic system – but that doesn’t mean we ought to just double down and turn this country into a kingdom. Our ancestors fought a revolution against the tyranny of a madman king.


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Fight for the future

When today’s young people look back on 2016, I can’t help but believe this year will be their Democratic Convention ’68, their Vietnam protests, their Watergate protests. This will be their Kent State. Some current youngsters wonder what “being a hippie protestor” was like, as if it was simply a role we played, a counter-culture fad of the moment, something that time and rewritten history made to sound rather quaint. But it wasn’t a role; it was real-life standing up for what you believe in, standing against racial prejudice and corruption and wrongs we hoped would be eradicated by now. This year like no other is the culmination of years of built-up pressure and concerns that went underground but never went away. This is the year when all the effluence hit the fan.

This will be the time that justice – that the democratic process itself – is under fire, and I hope we are all victorious in preserving it.

Now as then, people are awakening to the hideous persistence of injustice, of lies and untruths and broken promises. They are realizing there are consequences, dangerous and deadly, to standing up for one’s values. All the coddling and helicopter parenting and No Child Left Behind and Don’t Let Your Child Play Unsupervised actions have not prepared them for the uncertainty and cruelty of this year’s issues. Bean bags shot with velocity, hurt. Rubber bullets are painful. Real bullets kill. Kent State is no longer just an incident that happened back in grandma’s day; it could happen today, in their time – TO THEM.

They see black people profiled and arrested or killed for no other reason than the color of their skin. Melanin; melanin and the unreasonable hatred of it, can harm a person simply for having a little more of it than others.

People see Muslims and Hispanics threatened even though they might be third or fourth-generation American citizens, simply because of prejudice against their heritages. They see bystanders from groups like Sikhs hauled out and beaten because prejudice runs so deep in some people there is no difference between a radical terrorist from another ancestry entirely, and a peaceful fellow who wears a turban on his head according to custom. They see Native American rights activists struck down by law enforcement for forming a peaceful protest on their own land, while at the same time seeing white anti-government terrorists get away with threatening other law enforcement officers and taking over and damaging federal property. They see people with alternate lifestyles, who only want to live in peace on their own terms, get attacked and sometimes killed by those who have absolutely no business in anyone else’s bedroom but their own.

People are witnessing a vicious political battle fought with lies and innuendoes and unproven or disavowed accusations, while not knowing whether the ballot they are asked to cast will even make it to the tote board. They are watching Constitutionally-assured rights being eroded away by narrow-minded beliefs and false narratives. They see the devastating but deserved plunge in trust of our elected officials, who act in their own self-interests and political power preservation while asking their constituents to bite the bullet and accept corporation-friendly legislation, increased personal financial burdens and a country-wide failing infrastructure crisis.

They see these dangerous issues too often taking a backseat to the latest hijinks of a pop culture figure and other non-vital entertainment stories. Entertainment figures are given more airtime than health issues, ecological disasters, and social outrages – unless, of course, those issues have anything to do with a handful of entertainment figures.

They see the disappearance of journalistic integrity in lieu of highly profitable infotainment news; “if it bleeds it leads” and “today’s best sound bite” carry more weight than “verifiable facts for the enlightenment of the nation.”

They look on as the very basis of our government, We the People, get shouted over by bigotry, fear and threats of future violence if things don’t go the “right way.” They see a country that began with the notion of inclusion for ALL religions and belief systems, being attacked by one religion’s zealotry, intolerance and ignorance. They see the Animal Farm axiom come to life, paraphrased as “all people are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” They see the 1% receive political and financial favoritism while the majority of the country is pitted against each other in an increasingly vicious class struggle.

And yet people are still willing to fight. To protest. To use every avenue of technology at hand to shed light on the ills of a troubled society. Some day in the distant future – and let us hope there is a future for our country – when today’s young people may say to their progeny, “Back in my day we had to struggle to keep our country together and free in order to guarantee rights fairly, to everyone. And we did it. It was hard and complicated and at times frightening, but we did it. Through protests and speaking truth to power and standing up for our brothers and sisters and making sacrifices, we did it.”

Fight the good fight, people. For the future.

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Is there a doctor in the house?

The other day I went to the grocery store. Because it was summer in Georgia and therefore hot with a capital OMG, I wore a set of scrubs. You know what scrubs are – the lightweight cotton garments worn by health professionals and are easily laundered, easily bought at any department store and according to TV and movies, easy to pass oneself off as a health professional.

But identification with the medical community is not why I wear scrubs. I wear them because they are comfortable, they were a bargain buy at the Cheap Used Goods store, and they wick the summer sweat off the skin with admirable ease.

I got a few things and went to the checkout, where two young ladies were ready to ring up my purchases and bag them for me. Just as I put my goods on the counter, the bagger concluded their ongoing conversation with, “…but I think I’d rather go for a nursing degree.”

With that still on her mind the cashier turned to me. As she rang me up, she took in my scrubs and my distinctive salt-and-pepper hair and asked, “What are you?”

“Beg your pardon?”

She nodded at my shirt. “What do you do at the hospital?”

I used to work at the switchboard for nearly twelve years at a hospital, but I didn’t feel like reciting my work history to a stranger so I simply answered, “I’m tired.”

“Oh, sure. But I mean, what’s your position?”

I gave her a weary smile and repeated, “I’m tired.” Well, I was. It was true. I’m acutely aware that my hair belies the truth that my unlined face denies and therefore gives me an unsolicited dignity. It was perfectly understandable that they would assume I held a weighty degree, rather than be an operator-used-to-be. It’s wearing to one’s soul to witness the looks on people’s faces when they realize you do not fit the fancy suit their imaginations craft for you.

The bagger-and-possibly-future-nurse smiled and commented, “I bet you are!” I finished paying for my stuff and left without further comment. Later I kicked myself for missing a grand opportunity.

What I SHOULD have done was look the cashier in the eye and announce, “I’m a doctor of Phrenology.”

I mean; damn, y’all! I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Communications with a Theater emphasis. I’m a certified ACTOR, for Pete’s sake. That alone earns me a bona-fide certificate in Phrenology. For as long as I’ve been dealing with the strange and varied habits of the human race, I’ve earned a doctorate in the “study” of the shapes of people’s craniums in order to determine their psychological attributes. It’s centuries-old… well, bullshit. It used to be considered a legitimate medical field, back in the day when doctors were still using leeches to cure “fits” or prescribing laudanum for everything from headaches to cancer. And people went along with it! Even Queen Victoria allowed a phrenologist to read her children’s skulls. Queen Victoria. If a phrenologist could pass muster with Queen Iron Pants, Herself, then anything is possible.

So the next time I wear my scrubs in public and someone asks me WHAT I AM, as if simply wearing an easily obtainable garment automatically grants me powers beyond the humble title I earned from the University of Central Oklahoma Speech Department, I shall proudly announce, “I am a doctor of Phrenology!”

Dr. Jones, at your service. Now this won’t hurt a bit: let me look at your skull, feel around on it a little, and figure out your personality and emotional tendencies. It’s okay. I’m a professional. I’m a Phrenologist.

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Balard and Sonnet

The following is a background story for the Flight of the Armada series. There really isn’t a good place to put it in the series so far, so it’s just going to be one of those extra things, sort of like the outtakes DVD’s have added, right after “Scene Selections” and “The Making Of.” It also serves to explain how Sandan Medina got his extraordinary size and strength, and how he was able to survive the emergency flight in Book Five.

(If you didn’t follow that last line, go here: ) There. Then read the five books before it. And now, on with the story of Balard and Sonnet:


Thuringi nobility originally received titles for military achievement during the early Rules. Later Rules also issued noble titles for outstanding work in the sciences. Somewhere during the Twentieth Rule, noble titles ceased being granted. King Farrod Phillipi de Trapis disliked the disdain nobles showed toward ordinary non-nobles, so he stopped the practice altogether during his Rule. Few titles were given in succeeding Rules.

Sandan Medina was the last Duke of Fellensk. His mother Melina Medina de Saulin was the descendant of the family of the sister to the King of the Fifteenth Rule. Balard Saulin had a passion for playing the vo and enjoyed playing it outdoors in the gazebo of his family’s back garden. When Princess Sonnet Phillipi de Hallid stopped in for a royal duty call on Balard’s vicar father during the Fourteenth Rule, she was drawn to the sweet low sound of bow drawn over string.

To Sonnet, the young man seated behind the vo was attractive and his robust and heartfelt playing style intrigued her. She invited him to play for Royal Court and returned with him to Arne, travelling in separate linspar (train) coaches as proper young men and women did in those days.

Balard played for the court and was confused to find the king and queen did not appear to be pleased despite his best effort. Afterwards he packed up his vo and was prepared to board the next linspar back to Fellensk when the princess stopped him.

“Wherever are you going?” she asked.

“Back to Fellensk, of course. I shall not stay if I am such a displeasure to my king.”

“What do you mean? Your playing was divine. The whole court was agog over it.”

“Your father and mother were not agog. I have never seen such frowning in all my life and the fact that it was royal frowns chills my heart.”

“I do not understand. Balard, please do not leave. Come with me and we shall sort this out.” She led the reluctant musician back to Grace Castle, where they found the king and queen out by the fountain in the Royal Garden. “Wait here by the gate and I shall motion for you to join me when the time is ripe,” she instructed. She hurried out to the fountain. “Father, do you have an appreciation for grand music?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then why did you frown so when Balard Saulin played? There was not a sour note in the score.”

“I know that. The lad’s skills are marvelous, but…”

“But what? Are you upset that he played during Royal Court, was that a breach of protocol? I have never heard of such.”

“No; it was a pleasant break from the grind of decision.”

“Then what is it? He awaits over by the gate, upset at the very notion that you were displeased.”

“He what?” King Theroll thundered. “Here you lad! Come at once!” Balard walked as briskly to the royal family by the fountain as carrying the heavy vo case allowed. “So you are the vo player, are you?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Frankly I am astonished that you are so brash to be here at all.”

“Father!” Sonnet was appalled. “Why, you said only moments ago that his skill at the vo is marvelous!”

“At the vo, yes,” the king snapped as his son Prince Colwin rode up on his favorite gakki. “What I do not appreciate is some young noddy who is admittedly passionate for my only daughter, showing up at my Royal Court!”

“When did I say such a thing?” Balard squawked.

“This sounds interesting,” Colwin said to no one in particular.

“Of what do you speak?” Sonnet demanded.

“I heard you say not five minutes before Royal Court began that this young man felt very passionate about you!”

“He is very passionate when he plays, Father; when he plays! I have no idea where his other passions may lie!” Sonnet said, her face turning a very delicate pink. Colwin snickered.

“I do not think it seemly to simply ask him,” the queen said, noting that the same shade of pink now flushed Balard’s face too.

“Oh, but I do!” Colwin declared. “Sir, where do your passions lie concerning my sister? Is she of interest or is she a total bore?”

“Colwin!” Sonnet squalled. “You are no help whatsoever!”

“I am from Fellensk,” Balard said in a clear unhurried voice. “It is not seemly to suggest either notion is applicable to the princess of Thuringa, especially if one has never met her before to know one way or the other.”

“I am not a bore,” Sonnet told him sternly.

One of Balard’s eyebrows rose and he pursed his lips firmly together. It was plain to the royal family that he was straining to keep from asking if he might find her interesting instead, but was too well brought up to do so. On the other hand, he might have thought that she was a resounding bore but was too well brought up to say that, either. After a moment Colwin Phillipi burst into laughter so raucous he fell off his gakki and onto the thick well-tended lawn.

“I would not be so stupid as to presume such, Princess Sonnet,” Balard replied at last. “Yet I have not the boldness to assume the other.” He took another glance at Colwin, who rolled around on the lawn chuckling all the while. “Is His Highness unwell?”

“Usually,” Sonnet said as she gave her brother a warning kick on the shoulder.

“Sonnet, do not abuse your brother. Colwin, get up! You are the Crown Prince, not a dallah performing tricks.”

“But Father! This poor fellow came to play the vo for you and very well too, I might say. He had no way of knowing that Sonnet evidently finds him quite the face! She had to figure out some way of bringing him to your attention!” Colwin shrewdly deduced.

“I truly hate you, you unredeemable snout!” Sonnet declared.

Balard dropped his vo case and hastened to pick it back up. King Therrod noticed the man seemed pleased at Colwin’s observation but flustered at the public revelation that Sonnet did not deny.

“I understand you are a doctor,” Therrod said.

“Yes, Your Majesty. I served in the military medical corps for eighty years before I transferred to civilian care.”

“Why did you not remain in the military, may I ask?”

“Sendenar, sire.”

Therrod nodded. Sendenar experienced a terrible outbreak of Lash Fever, a condition given to victims who developed large welts on their bodies as their fevers came to a peak. With constant care the fever could be controlled until the condition ran its course. Most physicians preferred to stay in the military, where glory and honor awaited. “Are you considering a return to the military?”

“Perhaps not. The military has an admirable string of worthy medicals already as do the port cities. The inland cities have less physicians and asked me to stay. Also, my family is from Fellensk and the orchestra is likely to strike me with my own bow if I should leave without finding a replacement.”

Therrod laughed. “I imagine so, with a talent like yours!”

“Oh, that is not what I meant at all! I make no boast about my playing, sire. It is my vo. It has a quality to it that is unsurpassed. We gained it from a D’tai merchant who said it was from the last of their wildwood.”

“That is what they get for the wholesale destruction of their own habitat,” Queen Nayanda said.  “Wildwood made the best instruments. They domesticated the lovely hum right out of their trees.”

They spoke at length about D’tai wildwood and instruments, which gave Sonnet another opportunity to slip in another kick at her brother. Colwin got to his feet and elbowed her playfully.

“So you like this fellow, eh?” he whispered in her ear.

“Hush!” she whispered back furiously.

“Oh come now; he’s a lot more interesting than some of the frightful examples I’ve seen squiring you around lately. A man who passes up the chance to gain a title and glory in order to serve civilian patients? Sounds like a decent fellow to me.” Sonnet glanced at her brother warily, and he winked at her. “I am very picky about who gains my sister’s heart but say the word and I shall subscribe to your campaign.”

“Then start by not being so difficult!”

“I say, Father and Mother; it is close to dinner time. Why don’t we invite the good doctor to dine with us and we can all learn more about wildwood?” Colwin suggested.

“Excellent idea! Dr. Saulin, is that agreeable to you?” Therrod asked.

“Indeed it is.”

Balard was an entertaining guest full of interesting conversation and good manners. After dinner he again played the vo, and Sonnet soaked in happy admiration of him. “Must you return to Fellensk soon?” she asked. “I imagine the orchestra of Arne is no less grand than the one there.”

“It is indeed grand but there is my task to consider.”

“Oh, of course. So you chose medicine rather than the vicary?”

“No, the Academy Masters chose medicine and I am rather glad they did. I am too fainthearted to become a vicar.”

“Too fainthearted to be a vicar? How?”

“Have you ever really seen what vicars must endure? Word, I would have gladly been on the front lines of a Shargassi ground assault rather than face a nest of upset Elder women on a scolding spree.”

The laughter that sprang from Sonnet was neither forced nor planned; she was honestly delighted in the reply. Colwin glanced at his parents and nodded.


Balard returned to Fellensk but corresponded with Sonnet often. She attended the Festival games of Fellensk the next year and discovered to her dismay that other women corresponded with Balard Saulin as well. Of course he was not beholden to place his princess ahead of all else any more than she was expected to for him. It was understandable that such a pleasant fellow should have love interests from before his meeting Sonnet. Still, the princess did not like the women who commanded his attention.

They preen and coo like little rheamor except that their claws dig far deeper than our noble creatures ever tried, she wrote Colwin. I think he tolerates them, perhaps he even likes one in particular, but that will not deter me. Unless he tells me directly that someone else owns his heart, I will see about the purchase for myself.

The other woman was Layla Rebaum, a gakki trainer who also played an instrument in the Fellensk orchestra. She played a tesserad, a lively instrument with keys to press as air was brought in and out of it like a bellows. Tesserads were difficult to learn and its musicians were well respected for their mastery of their chosen instrument. Layla taught dressage to Ground Command gakkis, something not required but highly desired in the animals. Other worlds attended Command Review days expressly to see the wonderfully prancing Ground Command gakkis, and the best trainer at that time was Layla Rebaum. She was no strain on the eyes, either. Attractive, talented, smart and accomplished: Layla Rebaum’s abilities were enough to make Princess Sonnet Phillipi want to vomit.

Oh, but what can I do? I am the princess of the realm but all that really means is that I can expect him to bow to me at formal occasions. I am not a musician, at least not compared to either of them! I appreciate music but I never really studied it; I was too busy learning multiple Stellar Council languages to do much more than poke at a mellior. Why should the Stellar Council hold that sort of talent dear to heart; every Thuringi royal is supposed to learn them. It does not seem nearly as exciting or admirable as teaching a gakki to dance and trot at precise tempos. And she is so pretty! Oh Colwin, this is a most depressing situation. Balard has no need of me. He already has the Ideal Woman right here. I wish I could say she is hateful or vain or stupid as a stick but she is not.

His reply was succinct. Well, what is it you want me to do? Fall in love with her myself? I have a love interest already and there is no room or inclination for another.

She fired back You are no help!

Colwin’s answer to that made her stop to think. Stop worrying whether you can measure up to her; why compete in kind? Give him a choice. He can choose someone who is pulled in many different directions, or he can choose someone who is dedicated to serving Thuringa. It seems to me that he would have better chance of being well-loved if he is not merely another item on a long list.

Sonnet looked in her mirror. “He’s right. If Balard wishes to be simply another accomplishment and then wait for his turn to be utilized, then he deserves her!”

She went to Festival with her head high and her spirits low. She had a brief chance to smile at Balard before being whisked off to observe this contest or that Kellis match or present award after award after award. Each presentation made her feel worse. Why, there are hundreds of people more capable than I! The one thing I can do with exception is the very thing I cannot do in public. Arda power has no place on the brag.

She danced with every man present each night or so it seemed to her, except with the man with whom she most wanted to step in time. She saw him either in the orchestra or on the dance floor with a number of ladies and he made no move toward Sonnet. She was so tired by the time she returned to the inn she fell asleep as soon as she was prone on the bed.

For four days she continued the pattern of observation and duty. Every night she saw Balard dance, more often than not with the accomplished Layla Rebaum. By the fourth night she was low in spirits and the Elders worried about her health.

“Princess Sonnet, perhaps we have called upon your presence too often. You look unwell,” one Elder said.

“Indeed no, Lord Korreia. I gladly do my duty; it is only among such robust people that I appear pale in comparison.”

“Begging your pardon, Your Highness, but I took the liberty to bring in an expert in such matters.”

She glanced up and suddenly realized that Dr. Balard Saulin had been summoned and was now reaching to check her pulse. “You’ve been a very busy woman,” Balard noted. “I do not think you have missed a single event.”

“It is not the crown’s way to miss any if one can help it.”

“Ah, but perhaps you should help it from time to time. All this activity has you rather drawn out.”

“I’m sorry. I cannot be everything to everyone,” she replied, on the verge of being cross.

“No one expects you to, Your Highness. May I fetch you a drink?”


He was back in a minute with a glass of juice. Beside him was Layla Rebaum.

“Are you ill, Your Highness?” she asked.

“Not exactly.” Sonnet sipped on the juice. “It is to be expected from time to time.”

“Do you suffer from a weakness?”

“I suffer from being a royal lacking in personal accomplishment. If that is a weakness than I suppose I do.”

Balard knelt beside her chair. “We would never call Your Highness weak. Your stamina is admirable. Even now you fight to continue a perfect record.”

“Well, it is her duty, after all,” Layla pointed out.

“Not true! Even His Majesty only takes in a handful of events a day,” the concerned Elder spoke up.

Sonnet abruptly got to her feet. “I must prepare for tomorrow. I shall retire for the now –” Her vision blurred as she felt her knees giving out.

Balard caught her. “You are going to bed. Tomorrow will have to discover what you can or cannot do.” She made only a whimper of protest; she knew he was right. “I’ll just place her on her bed and cover her with a comfort spread,” he explained to the Elder.

“Do you need help?” Layla offered.

“I think not.” He carried the princess away, explaining to people from time to time that she was worn out from duty and sorely needed rest. She heard well-wishes as if in a fog.

“I’m not weak,” she moaned.

“Of course you aren’t,” he told her.

“I simply can’t do anything.”

He chuckled. “Right now; no.” The inn owner opened the door for Balard and went to get another comfort spread in case she needed it. Balard gently laid her on the bed. “My poor hardworking princess! Rest now little one.” He patted her hand. “Ah! I knew I should have tried to ask you to dance days ago, but I didn’t know you would wear yourself out so thoroughly.” She squeaked in protest, unable to reply. He kissed her forehead.

“Here now! If anyone needs one of those it would be me,” Layla joked.

“You have had plenty in your time. Since you are here, slip her shoes off. I would rather not do it myself.”

“Nonsense! You are a professional medical.”

“I am a man. It is unseemly to be so close to her toes even with a medical degree.”

“Why not? You’ve seen toes before.”

“None that interest me.”

Her voice took on a sharper edge. “Not even mine?” When he did not reply, she snorted in disbelief. “Oh, so the allure of the crown extends to her toes does it?”

“Stop behaving so ill-tempered, Layla.”

“I thought I had the right to behave –”

“Oh, very well! I’ll remove the damn things myself.” He quickly slid Sonnet’s slippers off and let them drop to the floor. “And just so you will be clear on the matter, you have no more right to behave that way than anyone else. I happen to admire her and the crown has nothing to do with it. In fact, it is the only thing I do not take into consideration.”

“You are a scoundrel!” Layla said with a stamp of her foot before she stormed out.

“I do not care,” he called after her. “Oh,” he said in a quieter tone of voice, “that was too loud next to slumber.”

“I’m not asleep,” Sonnet mumbled.

He smiled. The innkeeper and her Naradi brought in a comfort spread and they placed it on top of the tired woman.

“See to it that she is not disturbed for the rest of the night, will you?” Balard quietly asked the Naradi, who nodded. “Does she always work so hard?”

“Yes,” the Naradi whispered. “They all do, you know. She’s just more stubborn than most.”

“Am not,” Sonnet grunted.

“Ssh you,” Balard cautioned as he brushed a stray lock from her face. “And you must sleep in as long as your body requests, even if there are twenty bindas under your window crowing their accomplishments.”


To Balard’s dismay Sonnet was up the next morning well before the first event was scheduled. He knew this because he slept on the couch in the front parlor of the inn and the Naradi awoke him. “What did I tell you? She is up and moving about in her room readying for the day. I said she was stubborn.”

Balard went to her room and knocked on the door. “I told you to sleep in.”

“There were twenty-one bindas.” For a moment he did not understand but when he did, he laughed aloud. She emerged from the room looking as fresh as a garden flower. “I promise I will not push myself so hard, but I really do like to see what people can achieve. If it makes you feel any better, you can join me and scold whenever you think I need it.”

“It wouldn’t make me feel better exactly but in case it does, I shall when necessary.”

She was curious to know more details about his surprisingly unstable relationship with Layla but did not ask. If he wanted her to know he would tell her, and he already knew she heard what was said.

The morning events were good, but toward the early afternoon her strength waned. “Her Highness has tried to keep pace with the entire Festival but is wearing herself out,” her Naradi told the crowd. He won a sharp look from her but he ignored it. “His Majesty feels you would understand if the princess withdrew from a few events of the day.” The crowd applauded and several voices called out encouragement.

“We quite understand!”

“You are admirable, Princess Sonnet!”

“Rest up for the dance tonight!”

She waved in gracious acquiescence and followed her Naradi back to the Inn. “You are a glorious stiff-necked tyrant,” she told him.

“Garins always are. And His Majesty gave me firm instructions to inform him of any unusual events so do not try to fly insubordination in my face.”

“You mean you actually told Father on me? Oh glory.”

“Uff! Who is the stiff neck here? Of course I told him. You appeared in good order until last night when you suddenly turned absolutely ghastly within minutes. Do not try to tell me you did not feel ill because you certainly looked it.”

“Oh, very well but it was not until I sat down that my body committed mutiny. I honestly thought I was doing well but I fooled even me.”

“All right then. Ah, Dr. Saulin!”

“Good afternoon, Captain Garin. Your Highness, I am trying my best not to claim I warned you but there it is: I warned you.”

“So you did. You have won this spare.” She went straight to bed and slept for a few hours. When she awoke she felt good. She dressed in her prettiest dress and walked out into the hallway. Captain Garin was apparently on break so she cheerfully headed for the lobby. At the top of the stairwell she stopped at the sound of angry hushed voices from below.

“… you been here all afternoon! Does she need two guards to watch her sleep now?”

“I’ve been talking to Captain Garin. Is it necessary for me to clear my schedule with you?” The second voice was Balard’s but the first voice was not Layla’s. Whoever it was continued.

“You will think ‘clear my schedule’ when Layla catches up to you! I’m not nearly as mad at you as she is!”

“I do not care either way,” Balard said evenly.  “You are both simply jealous because she is selfless and pretty.”

“And a princess!”

“One cannot help to whom one is born. According to Captain Garin, it is a terrible responsibility to be a royal.”

“Well, it is also a terrible responsibility to be practically devoted to one woman while having an eye on another!”

“I am not devoted to anyone, and I will thank you to mind your own business. That is your responsibility, Cara.”

Sonnet heard a door open and Captain Garin say, “Oh! I thought you were upstairs! Who is with the princess?”

“She was still asleep when Lady Cara asked to speak to me,” Balard said. “We took the conversation to the stairs so as not to disturb her.”

Sonnet fled for her room, where she checked the mirror and tried to calm her racing pulse. So much information to process; so much good news to consider! When she finally heard footsteps in the hall stop outside her door, she opened it and could not withhold a smile. Balard and Captain Garin bowed to her.

“You look better rested than ever,” Balard noted. “Are you ready for dinner?”

“I certainly am! I could eat a tree and not even pause at the twigs.”

It was the final night of Festival dance and Sonnet danced with many men, but Balard danced with her the most. Finally Captain Garin stepped in to dance toward the last of the evening.

“This has been a good Festival for you, hasn’t it?” he asked. “Despite the illness?”

“Yes, it has.”

“Good. I told your father only minutes ago that you were much better and he was very relieved to hear it. He said he was very proud of you and that he could have not have done it any better.”

“Is he back from Thelan, then?”

“Yes, he came in this afternoon. He asked how you like Fellensk.”

“I love it. Don’t tell anyone but I think it is even prettier than Arne.”

“I don’t dare tell a soul! Arne would be most displeased.” He smiled. “Or is it that Fellensk has something or someone that Arne does not?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I think you do. I did not think it would take you this long to connect with Dr. Saulin despite his attempts all week long to do so.”


“It seemed every time he attempted to come your way, one of the townswomen steered him in another direction. Ah, to be a most petitioned man! It must be dreadful.”

“Perhaps not. He looked happy enough in their midst.”

He waited until they danced past a group of people before replying. “The Saulins and particularly those of his clan are known for their grace under pressure. Of course he would do nothing as painful as making a public scene but he was quite upset by the distance between the two of you.”

“How could you tell all that if he is so skillful at masking his feelings?”

“We spoke at length today while you slept.”

“And what do you think of him, Captain Garin?”

Bard Garin favored his princess with a brilliant smile. “I credit you with the good sense and taste to encourage him at every turn, Your Highness.”

“Then perhaps I should be dancing with him and not my matchmaking Garin guard.”

“Ha! Well met.” He maneuvered her over to the doctor. “Would you look to the lady? Now that she has adequate rest she is wearing me to a nub.”

Balard bowed. “I would be honored.”


Balard Saulin and Sonnet Phillipi enjoyed a very proper courtship followed by the requisite two-year devotional period. They enjoyed the opportunities to get to know each other; he especially needed the time when he learned what her Arda power was. It was during a camping trip to the mountains with Prince Colwin and his friends from the Air Command. A rainstorm came up before they could gather wood for a fire. Balard was mystified that Colwin and Sonnet did not appear concerned that the wood was soaked and therefore unburnable.

As Colwin and the warriors finished setting up the tents, Sonnet winked at Balard and whispered, “Now you will see something.” She snapped her fingers and the wet wood roared into a blaze.

“Word!” he exclaimed. “What manner of action is this?”

“This is Arda power, or at least what I can achieve with it.”

He gazed thoughtfully at the fire. “So that is how you did it.”

“What is that?”

“Lit my heart aflame,” he replied, and kissed her.

When they were married, King Therrod proclaimed that henceforth Balard and Sonnet would be known as the Duke and Duchess of Fellensk, and each eldest child would bear the title appropriately. This was known as a Gentry Noble. It was purely an honor and did not credit them with extra land or other amenities save a gracious building in Fellensk. Marzidae served as home for each successive generation until a personal home was built. Six Saulin dukes or duchesses lived there; the rest desired their own homes as was the case of Melina Medina de Saulin. Sandan’s lovely hereditary home was shattered and burned to the ground one Thuringi year to the day after the first Shargassi attack occurred. At the time he planned to rebuild it in all its glory, but as hope for peace dwindled and survival was even in question, he gave up on his plans. He would make a new home on Farcourt, he decided. Perhaps he was the last Duke of Fellensk and would be without Gentry Title, but that did not matter. To him it would privately be Marzidae, Reborn.


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The Babbie Dahl Dramatic Players

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Hi and welcome to the Babbie Dahl Dramatic Players! I’m your host Moderator Midge! I don’t have a last name because SOME PEOPLE wanted to hog all the spotlight and just focus everything on her skanky, everygirl, attention whore self, … Continue reading

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