I can take care of myself, but it’s nice of you to care

Me Umpiring 3

I’ve had a number of jobs where I was the only woman around, like my stint as an umpire in a mens amateur baseball league.

I’ve had a few jobs where I was, on most occasions, the only woman around. I spent about ten years as a TV sports reporter, covering primarily mens sports. Back when I was a journalist, there were almost no other women working in the sportscasting ranks. For the past 40 years, I’ve been an amateur sports official, calling football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball games. Today, I’m an Arizona Interscholastic Association high school football referee and crew chief. Again, on those occasions, I am almost always the only one representing my gender.

I bring this up because of struggles I’ve had dealing with what is essentially kindness. You see, some men want to take care of me. Sweet, yes? However – as women who have trod the boards in careers like mine surely know – those nice guys can put us in uncomfortable positions.

A case in point: Once, I was umpiring a men’s league baseball game, one of those strange situations where 40-year-olds think there are still scouts in the stands and that they might one day be called to the bigs. So, yes, they took those contests seriously.

All these years later, I can’t tell you why the coach was angry. I had the plate, so when he stormed out of the dugout waving his arms and screaming it was clear he disagreed with my call. As he approached, I noticed movement from the outfield. A quick glance told me the coach was in trouble.

Me and Don Baseball

My late partner Don Clarkson was a lovely man who sometimes felt the need to protect me on the field.

My umpiring partner Don Clarkson – a Green Beret war hero who did two tours in Vietnam – had both fists clenched at his sides. He headed for the plate, squinting at the coach, who – wide-eyed, spittle flying – berated me in front of the crowd.

“You need to back away, Coach!” I eyed my partner, who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress and had hands the size of hams.

Ry and Baby

My sweetie pie Ryan might appear to be a gentle sort, but twenty years working security made him pretty handy in a fight.

Then, I caught movement by the backstop. My sweetie pie gripped the screen tightly. Let me say here that Ryan spent a couple of decades doing security for rock-and-roll bands, NFL and college football, Super Bowls, soccer’s World Cup, and other dandy events like MTV Spring Break and, my favorite, a long string of performances staring Michael Crawford in Phantom of the Opera.

The coach took another step toward me and we were  nose to nose. Don passed the mound. I raised my hand to stop him.

“Coach! Get off he field!”

I glanced at Ryan. He let go of the backstop.

“Back away!” I yelled, hoping all three men might heed my warning. The coach, who didn’t realize he was in danger, continued screaming. My brain whirled. Had I not been distracted by the vision of a blood-soaked infield, I would have ejected him.

I stared at Ryan. “No!” I hoped he would stay where he was.

I’m still not sure what made the coach back away. But he did, just in time.

45596920_2273766002856639_420520123397308416_o

Every year, Ryan reminds my crew mates to take care of me. I guess I’ll have to get used to it.

Now, I don’t want to appear ungrateful. In fact, it’s comforting to know that a couple of big guys had my back. However, I think it prudent that I fight my own battles.

Today, Ryan agrees. And yet, every year when he meets my football crew at the beginning of the season, he can’t help himself.  He shakes their hands and says, “Take care of her.”

I guess I’ll just have to get used to it.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A run-in with the beach master

Me diving 2 smaller

It took me years to begin to understand how to behave properly in the sea.

Years ago, when I was a baby diver, I was on a boat off the coast of Mexico near San Carlos. I had just passed my dive certification and was pretty proud of myself. I thought my new license meant I was knowledgeable enough to stay safe in the sea. That the course and written and physical tests proved I knew what I was doing in that watery world.

I was wrong.

On this day, we were anchored off a small island where we saw a group of seals basking on a beach of tan sand. Dark, rocky cliffs rose behind the creatures, most of whom sunned themselves or snoozed, taking seal naps.

“The females are brown,” the dive master explained.

Later, that bit of information would prove vital.

“The males are darker. Almost black.”

As we were taking a break between dives, I grabbed my mask and fins and jumped in for a closer look. I half expected other divers to join me, but no one did.

“Be careful!” my sweetie pie called from the boat.

I swam toward the beach. Be careful? I I reflected on the creatures I’d seen in countless videos, swirling and playing, cute, jovial beasts, suitable for children’s stuffed toys.

The sea floor rose as I swam, my eyes fixed on the seals. Several reclined in a group. One large animal perched nearby. Then, I heard the bellowing, like a moose call. The larger seal, snout pointed at the the sky, called again.

Here’s where you can call me a dope. Because, I kept swimming toward the beach. Why you ask? Well, that seal appeared to be brown. So, no worries. I understood a male seal with a harem might be problematic, but I didn’t see any black seals.

Bull Seal 2

A large seal like this one – which I would later learn was called the beach master – perched by a group of other seals.

The large animal locked eyes with me and bellowed again. I instantly dropped my feet to the sand, my spidey senses on high alert. Then the seal waddled off the beach and plunged into the water.

That dark body came at me like a torpedo, barely submerged. My stomach dropped. There was no way I could out swim the beast. I thought I might be sick. Would the animal spear me or bite me? Either way, the confrontation would be ugly.

I braced for impact. But, when the seal was within about ten feet of me, he veered sharply to the right, and disappeared under the water. I stood frozen, wondering if he might attack from a different angle.

Nothing happened.

I waited.

Then, the seal roared up onto the beach, flipped around and bellowed again. I didn’t need a second invitation to leave. I turned and swam back to the boat, kicking as hard as I could, all the while wondering if the seal was on my tail.

“You’re lucky,” my sweetie pie said, as he helped me into the boat. “You could have been bitten.”

I was breathing heavily as I stared at the beach. The male seal – that I later learned was called the beach master, meaning the animal that owned and protected the harem – stood defiantly on the sand, still gazing in my direction.

Today, I realize that I will always be just a visitor in the sea. And, if I am to survive as a guest in that world, I must always be respectful and vigilant, or I might end up with some bite marks.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding a home

Morgan Box 1

This kitty needed a home, but I was conflicted.

“Ms. Montgomery, there’s a cat outside.”

Two of my students stared at me.

“Go and get it,” I said, immediately rethinking that idea after they’d left the room. I hoped the cat wasn’t mean or scared and left the kids with bloody gashes. I tried to stop them, but they were gone.

A short time later they returned, sans cat. “We couldn’t catch it,” they said in unison.

“OK.” I was relieved, but just momentarily.

“It’s so hot out there and the cat is panting.”

I looked at the sweet girl who tried to rescue the animal. “Is it hurt?”

“I don’t know.”

Crap! I’ve had more kitties than I can count over the years. Strays and cats who’d wound up in shelters. But I didn’t want another one. I still had three furry felines – down from seven – most of whom died after long, pleasant lives. And a big cattle dog, as well.

The problem is, I’m getting older, and whenever I’m faced with a new pet I start doing the math. If said animal lives 15 years, how old will I be? What if I die? Who will take care of them.  While I know my sweetie pie is as devoted to our four-legged friends as I am, what if we both died?

“So, you think the cat might be injured?” I said again.

She shrugged.

“Let’s go.” I led my students outside and found a sleek, black, kitty with big gold eyes. The creature meowed and ran right to me. I picked him up and prepared to be speared with curved, pointy claws, but he just laid his head on my shoulder, clearly no feral beast.

As it was lunchtime, I put the young cat in my office and, as I ate, he jumped into my chair, curled into a ball and slept at my side. “Well, aren’t you a sweet boy.” I patted his head and he purred loudly. I squinted as he closed his eyes. “But I don’t want another cat.” He ignored me.

Later, the girl who found him appeared and said she wanted to take the cat home. “My mom said it would be OK.”

I looked at the kitty and he stared back at me. “Great!” I said, not feeling great at all. “Let’s find a box.”

After we placed the cat in the container, I waved and watched her walk away. I admit, I was a bit sad. Still, I’d done the right thing.

“We found a cat at school today.”

My sweetie pie peered at me over his glasses, then glanced around the room.

“You’ll be proud of me. I found him a nice home.”

He raised both eyebrows, and didn’t have to say, How unlike you to not bring it home.

Later, I thought about the cat and decided to call the girl’s home to make sure he was settling in. Her father answered the phone.

“I don’t want a cat!” he said, an edge to his voice. “I don’t like cats. I don’t want it in my house. If she keeps it, we’ll put it in a cage in the backyard.”

I sat up. It was close to 110 degrees in the Arizona desert that day. “A cage?” I jotted down the address. “I’ll be right there.”

An hour later, I released the kitty in my living room, and he quickly made friends with Westin, my deaf Bombay cat. And then I noticed the similarity. They were almost identical. They nuzzled one another and again I realized this cat was no stray. He belonged to someone. He blinked at me and meowed. “No, my friend. I can’t get attached to you.”

A few days later, the vet waved a hand-held machine over the cat’s shiny fur. My heart beat quickly. A chip would be good,” I told myself. I’ll take him back to his owners, who are surely missing him.

“No chip.” The vet said.

I exhaled, then stared at my new kitty, who the vet informed me was just a baby at ten months old. I started to do the math, then stopped. I realized it didn’t matter that I’d be pushing eighty when he reached 15. As much as I tried to deny it, this cat was mine.

He head butted my hand and stared at me with those huge gold eyes.

We call him Morgan.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t own a cellphone, but I’m running out of time

thHold onto your hats!

I do not now – nor have I ever – owned a cellphone.

Now don’t jump to conclusions and assume I must be an old technophobe. I’m well versed in both MACS and PCs. I can layout a newspaper in InDesign and use Photoshop. I am on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and have multiple e-mail accounts, a website, and a blog.

So why no cellphone? First, I’m a teacher who spends a great deal of time and energy trying to keep my students focused on lessons. Surveys show that teens 15 to 18 spend almost nine hours each day utilizing on-line media. Children eight to 12-years-old are logging about six hours daily. These kids are more anxious than their predecessors, with higher rates of suicide and depression.

th-1

Children are spending way too much time looking at screens.

Now let’s consider what these children might be missing with so much time focused on a screen. Other than the issues involved in falling behind in the classroom, many are not participating in sports and clubs, so social interaction is limited. I know people will argue that they are interacting with others on-line, but as a teacher of communication skills, I know in-person contact is much more important.

Anyone who doesn’t believe that children are addicted to their phones – as are many adults – are kidding themselves.

So, how do we get people to disengage? Dr. Michael Ungar wrote in Psychology Today, “(I)t would appear that at least part of the solution to our children’s cell phone addiction is to offer them equally stimulating and socially engaging opportunities to do things that produce the same brain rewards as … staring at a small blue screen.”

Ungar went on to say that the solution is “providing young people with lots and lots (and lots) of opportunities to stay engaged with each other, to participate in arts and sports activities, and to have safe spaces after school to hang out.”

Of course, we must get kids to buy into putting down their phones and, in my experience, that is almost impossible.

The other problem with phones is the damaging effect they have on relationships. Time reporter Mandy Oaklander wrote in her article How Your Smart Phone is Ruining Your Relationship, “Real-life interactions are dulled when a person feels the urge to check their phone, and the distraction a phone affords one partner doesn’t make the other person feel good.”

Oaklander says phones are interfering with our relationships, leaving us anxious.

“It didn’t matter much how much a person used their device, but how much a person needed their device did. People who were more dependent on their smartphones reported being less certain about their partnerships. People who felt that their partners were overly dependent on their devices said they were less satisfied in their relationship.”

th-5

What compells us to pick up our phones and ignore those we are with?

I think my aversion to cellphones is that I’m afraid of becoming like the people I see daily: heads down, consumed by the screen, unaware of what’s going on around them. Who hasn’t witnessed people at restaurants busily texting, ignoring one another? Or the mother, face in her phone, instead of talking with her children? Or, geez, those who feel the need to communicate from a bathroom stall?

I can’t help but wonder what is so urgent.

“Ms. Montgomery, how can you not have a cellphone?” my students often admonish.

“I’m not that important,” I say.

“What if there’s an emergency?”

“Call 911.”

“What if a family member is sick?”

“I’m not a doctor.”

th-1

It’s now impossible to get into an NFL game without a smartphone.

My biggest concern is that it’s getting more difficult to live without a cellphone. It’s almost as if there’s a secret conspiracy to require everyone to get on board. A few weeks ago, I discovered I can no longer go to NFL games. All tickets work only through your phone. No more paper copies will be accepted. The league is determined to get 100% of fans to use their smartphones at the gate.

I sense this line of thinking will creep into use at movies and concerts and grocery stores and restaurants, so, eventually, I will be on the outside of society looking in.

I know what you’re thinking. “Geez! Get a friggin’ phone and join the 21st century.”

I know my time is coming. Still, I wish I wasn’t being forced to join the crowd.

What’s peculiar is that when I tell people I don’t own a cellphone, there is always a beat of silence as they examine me for obvious flaws. Then, oddly, many say wistfully, “I wish I didn’t have one either.”

Think about that.

Now, turn off your phones. Breathe. Watch a sunset. Walk your dog. Have a real conversation. There’s a world out there you can smell and touch and people with whom you can make eye contact.

Try it. You might be surprised.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

The NFL only pretends to care about women

After reading the USA Today article on NFL coaches and incidents of domestic violence, I was struck by one theme. The coaches with violent histories against women all “declined to comment” and “teams would not make them available for comment,” and “would not answer written questions” concerning the allegations.

ray-rice-arrest

Ray Rice was given a two-game suspension for knocking his fiancée out in an elevator. Justice? You decide. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=ray+rice+and+wife&&view

You might recall NFL commissioner Roger Goodall proclaiming the league had a “commitment to being a leader on the issue of domestic violence,” following the harrowing video of player Ray Rice beating his fiancée and dragging her from an elevator. Yet Goodall also declined to be interviewed for the story disturbingly titled “Red flags in the NFL: Domestic violence allegations easy to find in coaches’ pasts, but teams didn’t act on them.”

th

I guess this means the NFL cares about women.

Here’s the thing: The National Football League … doesn’t … care! Oh, they pretend to give a damn about women. Come on. All those guys wear pink in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In fact, the league also decreed October should be a time when we think about domsetic violence. And they want you to remember how great they are because they hired a woman official a few years back and another woman – Rita Smith – who is called “an adviser to the league on domestic violence issues.” Surely that means they support women.

But people, read the writing on the scoreboard. The league is only interested in covering up allegations of domestic violence. In fact, there is only one reason they give a whit about women: money. Statistics show women drive 70 to 80 percent of consumer spending and they are the dominant buyers of apparel and gifts. Now check those prices at the Official NFL Shop and do the math. (And isn’t it cute that the league also sponsors the Official NFL Ladies Shop?)

So let’s stop pretending. The league is and always will be a boys’ club, committed to defending its employees and hiding all incriminating evidence.

Can we do anything about this attitude? Probably not. However, even though I love football and have been an avid fan for almost four decades, I will never buy league paraphernalia, nor purchase a ticket to a pro game, nor buy a streaming service for the sole purpose of watching an NFL contest.

Perhaps you’ll join me. The more of us that turn away from the league, the better chance we have of them listening. And guys, if you’re vacillating, think of the women in your lives: your mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

Do it for them.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

Press Box Faux Pas

download

The press box is a serious place with rules and etiquett. I wish I’d understood that before I became a reporter.

I was a sports reporter for about fifteen years. During that time, there were certain job skills I was required to master. One was press box etiquette.

Unlike other occupations where one might seek guidance courtesy of a handbook or instructive power point, I had no way of knowing what was expected in that journalistic inner sanctum. So, sometimes, I made mistakes. Some that earned me the ridicule of my brethren.

One such moment took place when I was diligently watching the Arizona Cardinals lose another game. This was back when the Cardinals were one of the worst teams in the NFL – kind of like now. I was the team’s beat reporter for what was then KTSP-TV in Phoenix, which meant I traveled with the squad, attended games, and filed reports that ran on the evening news. I would watch from high above the field, documenting plays, determining story angles, identifying players I’d like to interview in the locker room following the game, and figuring out what I’d like to ask them, all of which would be pre-packaged for a live shot.

As you might expect, I got to know the players pretty well. Let me say here that, under the circumstances, I do not believe my behavior in the press box was horribly ill-mannered, still the other reporters were appalled when, on one rare, spectacular Cardinals play, I leapt in the air and cheered.

I was greeted by silence. I squinted at the row of reporters who stared at me with disdain. Apparently, cheering in the press box was a serious faux pas. But how was a I to know? No one handed out a list of do’s and don’ts upon entering the press box. And I was just delighted the Cards managed to sneak in something for their very short highlight reel.

The tension was thick. The other reporters turned away as if I had a contagious disease. I slumped into my chair, chastened.

download-1

It was during a Rochester Americans hockey game that I got into a bind in the press box,

On another occasion, I watched the Rochester Americans – a minor league affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres – host an AHL game. There was a timeout on the ice. The referee skated up to the scoring table, performed a nifty hockey stop, and got into a conversation with the guys keeping the books. Then, he picked up the phone.

We reporters were startled when the phone rang in the press box. One of the guys grabbed the receiver, listened for a moment, and then looked at me and furrowed his brow. He scrunched up his face like he needed a serious dose of antacids. Then he held the phone toward me and said, “It’s for you.”

Slowly, I put down my pen and rose from my seat. I took the receiver.

“Hey!” The referee said. “Where do you want to have dinner tonight?”

“Um…” I glanced at the other reporters who were waiting, wondering.

The referee laughed.

“I … don’t … know.” I squirmed, all eyes on me.

Let me pause here and explain that, yes, I was dating the referee. (Never could resist a guy in stripes.) I stared at the ice and he looked up at the press box, gracing me with a rakish grin. Players were waiting. Reporters were staring. I was sweating. What could I say that would sound professional?

“Yes! That would be fine.” I hung up quickly and returned to my seat, acting as if there was nothing strange about a referee calling a reporter in the press box in the middle of a game. I stared at my notes and considered explaining that I had been an amateur hockey official, so we were discussing a rule clarification, but that was just silly. So I focused on the ice, where the ref dropped the puck and the game action resumed.

The other reporters seemed to be waiting for an explanation, but I avoided eye contact and hoped they would be distracted, since what could I say? I knew that dating the ref might be considered out of bounds. I gripped my pen and concentrated as the puck bounce around the ice.

Despite the apparent need for decorum in the press box – don’t interrupt the guys broadcasting the game, pick up after yourself, keep the volume down, cuz we’re working here – there’s one place in that hallowed hall that’s generally a free for all. I’m sure you can guess.

It’s the buffet. No one bats an eye when reporters stuff their pockets with extra cookies or candy bars, or they eat the last sandwhich, even if they’ve already had two. It’s just a perk, the scribes will say. No manners required. That’s one rule that was obvious right from the start.

I wish the others had been that clear.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

The things we save

I have moved around a lot over the course of my life. I’ve lived in eight states and another country. I’ve resided in 13 different homes. Through all of those moves – and the purging of personal goods that inherently comes along with such transitions – certain items remain.

Geode

My best friends gave me this lovely geode when I was 16 and I have cherished it ever since.

There’s the glass mug that says LHS – Livingston High School – Senior Prom, June 1, 1973. And my Yamaha 12-string guitar which I lugged from place to place without ever playing for 35 years. And the geode with an array of blue-gray crystals that my best friends gave me for my sixteenth birthday. And the rest of my rock collection that has grown to about 400 specimens, some that I’ve had since I was in elementary school.

I think of these things now because I recently had to go through my father’s possessions. He died in June a week shy of his 96th birthday after a long and interesting life.

I faced boxes piled atop one another, taped and carefully labeled. I picked up one that had an ominous message. Do Not Open!

“Sorry, Dad,” I said as I cut through the tape. Inside I found a thick wade of money, bills from the post-World War II Philippines and Japan. Numerous coins spilled out: Indian Head pennies dating back to the turn of the 20th century that mingled with a single New York City Transit Authority subway token and a few 1960’s-era Kennedy half dollars. In an Altoid tin, my dad had another collection of coins. These apparently from some of the countries he’d visited over the years: France, England, Germany, Ireland, Canada.

Dad and a sailor

My dad – on the right – had a box of pictures from when he was a sailor during World War II.

Inside another box were small black-and-white photographs of my father and his shipmates on board their destroyer escort – the U.S.S. Alvert Moore – during the war, as well a a photo of my mother dating back to 1939. Mom – who is the epitome of strait-laced propriety even today at 94 – appears in a pair of white short-shorts and a halter top. When I presented the photo to her, trying to suppress a laugh, she insisted the woman in the photo was not her. Even when I pointed out her name scrawled across the top, she dismissed the picture as an obvious fashion faux pax committed by someone else.

Mom in short shorts 2

Though my mother swears the woman in the short shorts isn’t her, clearly it is.

There were also six pairs of rosary beads and some saints’ cards. Not too surprising for a life-long Catholic. And a thick but tiny book titled Useful Information for Business Men Mechanics and Engineers, with gilt-edged pages devoted to Weights of Flat-Rolled Steel, Heat Colors, and Unit Compression Stress for Main Members. (Don’t ask me. Dad was an engineer. Oddly, he was rather useless at fixing things, still he managed to design and build complicated industrial machines.)

A small cardboard tube caught my attention. Inside were three pages of rolled-up orange paper dated August 8, 1969: a letter I wrote from Girl Scout Camp. “I’ve been scubaing in the jungle,” I said of one of my earliest scuba dives in Saranac Lake, New York. “It’s got millions of water vines and plants all over the place.” The post script read as follows. “Shelly passed into blue cap,” I explained of my friend who had struggled with swimming early on. “Boy, is she happy!”

Another box held a fistful of sobriety coins courtesy of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dad earned over 35 of those awards, an achievement of which he was immensely proud. There was also a theater program from my high school production of South Pacific where I played a Navy nurse and a complicated slide rule in a black leather case with markings indicating my dad had owned it since he was in college at Penn State.

While going through the boxes – several of which were confounding since they were empty – I noticed some trends. My dad apparently collected pocket knives – there were maybe a dozen – and fingernail clippers and dental floss. I placed them in piles wondering what possessed him to keep purchasing these items. I wish I could ask. Perhaps his predilection caused my own. I too love pocket knives and have acquired more containers of dental floss then I’ll ever use. (I’ve put many dentist’s children through college.)

Troy, Brandon and Ry Dad's funeral

My youngest son, Troy – on the left, with Ryan and our oldest son Brandon – wore my  father’s clothes to the interment ceremony. My dad would have liked that.

While clearing out my dad’s clothes, I couldn’t help but think of Jon Hamm’s character in the TV series Mad Men. Despite being raised in a family of mostly coal miners, my dad was a clothes horse who wore his Brooks Brothers suits, buffed wingtips, and rakish fedoras with pride as he ventured into New York City to work in the 1960s. I brought some of his clothes home and, as it turned out, they fit my youngest son perfectly, which has me doing double takes sometimes. My dad would have been delighted.

As I sorted through my dad’s belongings, I saved some things and discarded others. Clothing and shoes went to Goodwill. The watercolor of his ship at sea went to my brother, who will eventually pass it on to the great grand children, along with my dad’s service medals.

When I was finished, I wondered why my dad saved the items he packed in those boxes. I will never know. Still, I’m glad I had the opportunity to study the things that were important to him. It gave me the chance to hold onto him a little bit longer.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

Facing our fears: Once was enough

download-1Most people are afraid of something. For me it’s tight spaces. I’m not sure when I first fell victim to this phobia, but it might have been on a high school Friday night when a bunch of us were going to a drive-in movie. (Remember those?) I was encouraged to get into the trunk of a car before we drove through the gates – something about too many kids in a car. In any case, I freaked, and clawed the underside of the hood and yelled until they let me out.

So, I’m claustrophobic, a malady that smacked me in the head one day when I was one hundred feet below the surface of the sea staring at a hole in the ocean floor.

I’d been told about the lava tube we would encounter. I glimpsed the small opening as another diver’s fins disappeared into the darkness. I paused, sizing up the mouth of the cave. It was not much wider than my wingspan and perhaps three-feet tall.

I  turned to my sweetie pie, who was hovering by a woman who was uncomfortable diving. I pointed to the mouth of the cave and he shook his head. Then he took the woman by the hand and helped her swim above the tube.

3-13-a-montgomery-blog-2-careful-with-the-fingers

I’d take a shark anytime over a narrow underwater cave.

I stared at that hole and wanted nothing to do with it. It looked so small and dark, but then I saw a light flickering inside and, without thinking, I swam to the opening and ducked inside. White sand flowed along the cave floor. I saw fins in front of me and followed. Then, suddenly, the fins and the light vanished, leaving me in total darkness.

I stopped abruptly. Then panicked and considered backing out, but turning around in that narrow space in complete darkness was problematic. The back of my tank caught on the top of the tube. The contact was slight, but was enough to make me sick to my stomach. I dropped to the floor and dug my hands into the sand in an effort to calm myself. I started sucking air, which was bad. The compressed air in a scuba tank is used up quickly on a deep dive. I had to move forward soon, but was frozen.

I raised my head and stared into the darkness. I held one hand before me but could see nothing. I dug my free hand into the sand and lifted the other, pulling myself forward, gripping the sand so hard my hands hurt. Slowly, I moved forward and down. The tube descended beneath the sea floor, angling deeper as I went.

Why had I not brought a light? And why had I been dumb enough to go in without such an important piece of equipment? I continued inching forward. How long was the tunnel? Why had I not asked? The questions swirled.  I was tempted to reach to the side to see how wide the tube was, but was afraid to know the truth.

Sometime later, I caught a glimmer piercing the top of the tube, a broken spot in the ceiling that glowed with soothing blue light. I rounded a bend and was graced with an opening. Dim light flooded the the cave, illuminating walls that were startling close. I kicked hard and exited. My sweetie pie was overhead. He knew how I felt about small places, so he was concerned.

Later, after a hot shower and a strong, grown-up beverage, we talked about that deep, dark, watery hole.

Yes, I’m glad I tried to conquer my fear, still I don’t think I’ll do anything like that ever again.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

Roadkill

First, let me say that I love animals of all kinds. I am a dog and cat rescuer and even take great care when I transport house-bound spiders outside. My sobriquet – Eco Annie – was earned, in part, because I wholly believe in saving the Earth’s endangered species.

That said, I’ve occasionally had situations with wild creatures that didn’t end well. For them.

download-5

Some seagulls are smarter than others.

Take, for example, the issue of the not-so-bright seagull, a creature I met dramatically on a lonely road along the Lake Ontario coastline. I came upon a whole flock of seagulls lounging on the tarmac. As I sped toward them, I watched the birds lift into the sky. Then I spied a single gull that remained on the blacktop. By the time he lifted languidly into the air, it was too late. He hit the windshield beak first and splatted, feathers flying.

I felt bad. Really bad.

Just down the road, a string of rocks appeared before me. Since my car was still shedding feathers, I slowed way down. To my surprise the rocks were moving, a long string of turtles, migrating from one side of the road to the other. Lovers of these sweet shelled beasts, be comforted. I waited patiently as the last turtle crossed the road, making it safely to the other side. So I was 1 and 1 on the kindness-to-wildlife scale.

Then there was the evening on another lonely road, this one in Western Australia. We were mining in the Outback – I’m an avid mineral collector – and as we left our campsite for the delicious promise of an actual bed and a warm meal, we were warned.

“The kangaroos will be out at dusk, so be careful,” our new Aussie friends explained.

download

Many vehicles in Australia, cars and trucks alike, boast roo bars because of collisions with kangaroos.

The idea of a shower and a cold grown-up beverage had us ready to roll. Perhaps, it might have been advantageous had we actually considered  those massive metal contraptions that were mounted on the front of many of the vehicles we passed, quaintly referred to as “roo bars”.

“OK! You keep an eye out and yell if you see a kangaroo,” my sweetie pie said.

“Roger that!” I squinted through the windshield at the wild desert land that was quickly vanishing with the light. I surveyed the area, knowing that kangaroos love to nibble on the grasses that sprouted beside the road.

th-2

I don’t think even Dr. Chris could have helped poor Skippy.

Suddenly, a head popped into view. “Kanga …” But before I had time to utter “roo” we’d smashed into that beast, spinning it up into the air and off into the shrubs. We skidded to a halt. I jumped out and looked for the animal. Today, after all those episodes Dr. Chris Pet Vet  – which, of course, I watched only to learn about veterinary care – I wonder if I might have been able to help an injured kangaroo. But I was unable to find the poor creature. (Now, if only I could locate Dr. Chris. But I digress.)

Ryan checked the front of the rental, examining the crushed-in hood that would, in the end, cost us a cool thousand bucks. Luckily, the car was drivable. As for Mr. Skippy, I doubt he fared as well as the vehicle.

The next day, on the road back to Perth, I was in for a bit of deja vu, for there in the middle of the road was a flock of birds. Not seagulls this time, but flamboyant mccaws, big birds with long blue and gold feathers.

“Wow! Look at that, Ryan said as we approached.

“They’re beautiful!”

As before, the flock took flight. And, as before, one stayed behind.

“Crap!” Ryan applied the brake, but the bird disintegrated in an explosion of pretty feathers, bits I later picked out of the grill.

I stared at my sweetie pie. He looked despondent. In less than twenty-four hours, he’d taken out a kangaroo and a mccaw. I patted his arm. “It’s OK. You didn’t mean to do it.”

He started the car and cautiously eased onto the road, carefully surveying the view in front of us.

th

The thought of hitting a cuddly koala had Ryan driving slower than usual.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“A koala bear.”

“Geez! You don’t want to hit one of them!” Visions of koala meat sticking to the car made me shiver.

It took us a little longer to get back to our hotel than it should have, but, luckily, there were no koala parts to remove from the grill.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

“The goddamned family vacation”

I grew up in northern New Jersey, a suburb of New York City, graced with the big-city extras that location entails. I thought all kids got to see Broadway plays, peruse exhibits at the Museum of Natural History , and eat at fabulous restaurants in Little Italy. It wasn’t until I attended college that I discovered other places in the country were … different.

“Let’s go to the city,” a friend said one weekend.

So we hoped in the car and headed for Cincinnati. Upon my arrival at the spot where the Ohio and Licking rivers meet, I said, “So where’s the city?”

However, it’s not as if I was completely unfamiliar with the rural world. In fact, in the summer, my parents would load me and my two siblings into the station wagon for what my father once referred to as “the goddamned family vacation.”

th

Like Eddie Albert and Zsa Zsa Gabor in Green Acres, my grandparents played at being farmers.

Our destination? My grandparents farm in Zanesville, Ohio. While they had not lived full time on those 325 hilly acres since the Great Depression, they would spend their summers at that broken-down house where my grandmother tended a large kitchen garden and my grandfather did his Green Acres bit, playing at being a farmer, riding around on a tractor and telling us to keep away from the bull, since one did not want to make the big guy mad.

Even though we were avid campers, this change of venue was astonishing for us suburban kids. There was no plumbing at the farm. We pumped water from a well that stood in the yard. There were no toilets. One had to trek over the hill where an outhouse provided a splintery seat where one might hear strange creatures scrabbling about underneath. And, because no one wanted to make that trek in the dark, we sometimes resorted to a quaint tin pot that rested under the bed. Baths were in a big metal tub that we lugged into the kitchen. A black, pot-bellied stove had a prominent spot in the living room. You could not step anywhere in that old farm house without hearing floorboards groan. The front porch sagged, proof that the dwelling’s best days had long since passed.

But what the farm lacked in amenities, it made up for with untamed beauty. Much of the land was forest, though there were fields that were rented to local cattle ranchers, where placid cows spent their days on pretty hillsides. There was a stream and ponds where my dad taught us to fish, showing us how to bait a hook and gently remove our sunfish from the line before returning them to their watery world. I saw my first quails perched on fenceposts, swimming copperheads, and a massive snapping turtle whose jaws were as big as my fist.

Some farm kids lived down the road and my brother, sister, and I found their accents peculiar. (In hindsight, I wonder what they thought of our New Jersey diction.) They let us ride their horse. All these years later, I still remember them laughing hysterically when said beast bolted with me on board, giving me a permanently bruised tailbone to remember them by.

All along the fence wild blackberries and raspberries boasted masses of sweet fruit. One day, I stuffed my pockets with those berries and – just for the joy of it – I ran up the hill to the house. On the way, I tripped and splatted on that one-lane road where the rare passage of a vehicle prompted people to stop what they were doing and wave. When I stood, all those smashed berries oozed from my pockets like jam.

After a week, my parents would pack us in the car and head back to Jersey. I’d watch the old farm house disappear and the one-lane road vanish between the hills. All the way home my siblings and I squabbled in the back of the station wagon, too far away for our parents to swat for misbehaving. While my dad loved the farm, I know it was the one-thousand mile round trip to that old house that earned our yearly trek the title “the goddamned family vacation”.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.