Tuesday Teacher: Mrs. Yalmauer’s English Class

The following excerpt is fiction. There is no Mrs. Yalmauer, at least not that I know of. If there is a Mrs. Yalmauer, somewhere, it is totally by coincidence that I picked her name out of thin air, assigned her to an English class in Amshover, Missouri, and placed Smivey Stepward in her 7th grade class. Amshover, Missouri doesn’t exist either. I checked. Smivey Stepward does exist. He’s very real. I can see his face, and I know his voice.

“Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery” by Dale Parsons, all rights reserved.

“Class, I trust all of you are prepared to give your demonstration speech today” Mrs. Yalmauer said. “This is an important grade during this marking period, I hope you have spent sufficient time preparing. You should have practiced your speech at home for your family so you are not nervous about getting up in front of the class today. You should have brought some props to help you with your demonstration. If, however, you are demonstrating something for which it was not possible to bring a prop, it is acceptable for you to use pantomime. Who can give me a definition of pantomime, class?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked. 

No one responded as quickly as she desired, so Mrs. Yalmauer answered her own question, which she does quite often. The class found out a long time ago that if they just keep quiet, she does most of the talking and seemed not to care that they didn’t answer her questions.  

“Okay, pantomime is acting out something without any visual aids or props. You act as though, for example, you are holding a jar and taking the lid off even though you don’t actually have one.” And as she talks she acts like she’s holding a jar and unscrews the lid, pulls it away and lays it on the desk. Her motions remind Smivey of Gretchen Kirtz getting ready to play the piano. “Does everyone understand?” No one said anything. “Good. All right, then. Let’s begin.” 

“I have placed all of your names in this basket, and I will draw them out one at a time” Mrs. Yalmauer said. “Sylvia Weitzel, you will go first please.”  

Smivey breathed a sigh of relief as the girl who sat right behind him walked to the front of the class. She was carrying what looked like a baby wrapped in a blanket and a zipper bag. She laid the bundle and the bag on the desk and then she began. 

“Mrs. Yalmauer and fifth hour English class, good afternoon to all of you. Today I am going to demonstrate how to change a diaper on a baby.”  

There were a few giggles in the class but when Mrs. Yalmauer cleared her throat they stopped.  

“This doll will represent a baby who is four months old. First, you should determine if the baby is wet or dirty. Sometimes it is easy to tell just by the odor.”  

“Pew!” someone said.  

“Boys!” Mrs. Yalmauer scolds.  

“If there is no odor but the baby is fussy, he may just be wet. The easiest way to tell is to hold the baby and stick a finger down the back of the diaper to see if it’s wet.” 

“Eeewww” came responses from the class.  

“Class?” Mrs. Yalmauer said.  

Sylvia continued. “If the baby is wet, first lay him down on a blanket. Next, unsnap the baby’s sleeper. Carefully pull his legs out of the sleeper so you can take off the diaper. Pull the adhesive strips off the front of the diaper and fold the front down onto the bottom. If the baby is a boy, it is a good idea to place a towel or cloth over the area or you may get squirted.”  

Snickers again from the class. 

“After cleaning the area with a warm damp cloth, put the new diaper on the baby. Some people prefer to use baby cream or baby powder before replacing the diaper. Now, if the baby is dirty, there is more to do.”  

“I’ll say” someone said from the back of the class.  

“Boys, that is enough” Mrs. Yalmauer said. 

“When the baby is dirty, the diaper should be folded down as before, but this time use it to wipe away as much waste as possible.”  

“You mean poop” someone muttered thinking no one would hear it but several students started laughing loudly.  

“Stephen Linkler! You go out in the hall!” Mrs. Yalmauer said.  

“Oh come on, everybody was thinking it!” he said.  

“Instead, go to the office and explain to Mr. Pommer what you said. Now! Go!”  

“I’m going” Stephen said as he shuffled out of the room closing the door loudly.  

“Okay, Miss Weitzel, you may continue.” 

Sylvia Weitzel finished her demonstration and the class gave her polite applause.  

“Okay, Sylvia, very well done. Now all of you should be able to change a baby’s diaper,” Mrs. Yalmauer said. As she was drawing another name from the basket she said, “Next we have Smivey Stepward. Okay, Smivey, would you come to the front, please?” 

Smivey acted as though he was completely prepared. As he walked to the front he still had no idea what he was going to do. As a bead of sweat formed on his upper lip he turned to face the class and a thought hit him like his finger touched a light socket. 

“Today I am going to demonstrate how to play the piano. The piano is a large instrument made of wood. It has a big box with metal strings on the inside. On the front it has white and black keys that are pushed down to make the sounds. To play the piano you sit on a bench in front of the keys.”  

He pretended to pull a bench out in front of the piano and posed in a difficult sitting position.  

“Then, you play.” And using both hands, Smivey pretended to push on the keys with no particular rhythm or grace. He then stood up straight and bowed to the class as they clapped. 

“Mr. Stepward, that was a good start, but tell us about the music you are playing. First of all, how many keys are there on the piano?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked.  

“Sixty-seven” he said confidently, not having any idea how many there really are.  

“How do you know which keys to push?” the teacher asked.  

“Uh, well, first you have to know the music you are playing. There are lines on it and lots of notes,” he said, trying to remember his clarinet music. “There are notes on the top and notes on the bottom.”  

“The bottom of what?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked.  

“The bottom of the music,” he answers.  

“Okay, what are the notes?”  

“Well, uh, there’s a way to remember them, and it’s, uh, Every Cow Ate Fudge, and then the lines are, uh, Flies Don’t Bother Going East, or something like that I think.”  

Several students were laughing as sweat drops fully formed on his forehead. 

Mrs. Yalmauer, knowing that Smivey was not as prepared as he tried to make himself appear, said, “Well, I play the piano as well, and in the first place there are eighty-eight keys, not sixty-seven. And you’re almost right about the notes except you have them upside down. The acronym is F-A-C-E for the spaces, and Every Good Boy Does Fine for the lines in the treble clef. Do you know what the notes are in the bass clef?” she asked.  

“The what?” Smivey asked.  

“The bass clef, which you would normally play with your left hand,” she answered. “No” he answered softly, becoming more embarrassed by the minute.  

“The spaces acronym is All Cows Eat Grass, not “every cow ate fudge”. The lines are Girls Boys Do Fine Always,” she continued. “How long have you played the piano, Smivey?” she asked.  

“I don’t, but I might start,” he answered as the class laughed again.  

“Well, next time you do a demonstration speech, let’s make it about something you know” Mrs. Yalmauer said. 

Copyright 2022 by Dale Parsons

Our Insatiable Obsession with Balls – 1

Balls are everywhere. Balls of different sizes. Some are soft, some hard. Some bounce, some refuse. Whatever the reason, it seems no one wants balls to be near them, because they are always, and in various ways, trying to either throw or hit the balls as far away from them as they possibly can.

Picture, if you will, someone instructing another on the fine skill of hitting a little ball with a big stick. Let’s listen in on the first lesson.

“Here is the little ball you will use,” instructor Erv Hammelmink said, handing a little white ball to his student.

“Why do I have to use such a little ball?” Alword Frinst asked.

“Well, as they say, big things often come in little packages. You will find this little ball holds the power to fly great distances when you hit it with this big stick,” Erv said.

“I see,” said Alword.

“First, you will place the little ball on a little stick, then you will hit it with a big stick. Watch me, I’ll show you how to do it,” Erv said as he placed the little ball on the little stick. He stepped up to the little ball on the little stick with a big stick. He stood there silently, staring at the little ball on the little stick, holding the big stick next to the little ball, threatening it. He slowly brought the big stick back a few feet, then slowly brought the big stick back to the little ball, threatening it yet again. Then, Alword watched as Erv brought the big stick back, way back behind his head as if he were trying to twist himself completely around, then quickly untwisted, bringing the big stick down and hitting the little ball on the little stick with a loud smack! Alword watched as the little ball flew straight away, almost out of sight.

“Wow!” Alword said.

“Yes, that was good,” said Erv. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Ok, but why are we doing this?” Alword asked.

“It’s a game. We’re going to hit the little ball with the big stick, then we’re going to search for the little ball we just hit with the big stick, and we’ll hit the little ball with the big stick again,” Erv explained.

“If we already have the little ball, why would we hit it with a big stick just to go find it again? Why don’t we just keep the little ball?” Alword asked.

“That’s not how the game is played! We hit the little ball with the big stick, go find the little ball, then hit the little ball with the big stick again, then go find it, and hit it again,” Erv said with frustration in his voice. “Now get up there and give it a try,” the instructor said.

Alword carefully placed the little ball on the little stick. He stepped up to the little ball on the little stick with the big stick Erv had given him. He stood next to the little ball on the little stick with the big stick and stared at the little ball, just as he had seen Erv do. He threatened as long as he thought proper, then brought the big stick way back behind his head until he thought he would tip over. He quickly untwisted himself, bringing the stick down with great speed and heard a loud thud. He watched as huge clumps of grass and dirt sprayed in every direction. The little ball remained on the little stick, having withstood the threat.

“That was a good swing, Alword,” Erv said. “This time, try keeping your eyes on the little ball while you bring the big stick back. Try not swinging quite so hard. The important thing is to actually hit the little ball on the little stick with the big stick.”

Alword tried, tried, and tried again, until he had to pick up the triumphant little ball still proudly standing on the little stick while escaping the violence nearby, and move the little ball on the little stick to another spot without a deep moat around it.

Finally, after patiently watching his student’s innumerable attempts, Erv picked up the little ball still standing on the little stick unscathed, and threw it as far as he could in the direction his own little ball had flown.

Erv and Alword slowly walked and searched for the two little balls.

“After we’re done hitting the little balls with the big stick, what happens?” Alword asked.

“We will hit them into a hole,” Erv answered.

“Why?”

“That’s the point,” Erv said. “We hit the little ball on the little stick with a big stick until it falls into the hole.”

“What do we do then?” Alword asked.

“We take the little ball to another spot, put it on the little stick, and hit the little ball on the little stick with a big stick again until it falls into the hole again,” Erv said.

“Why would we do that?” Alword asked.

Erv stared at him for several minutes. “Maybe you should take up gardening.”

-Dale Parsons

Model Railroading from Start to Not Finished

Model railroading starts with a fascination with trains. I guess that’s obvious. But why trains? What are trains? Aren’t they just huge semi-trucks with steel wheels instead of rubber, rolling on rails instead of roads? There are one, two, maybe five or six or more incredibly large engines, pulling anywhere from ten to one hundred and more huge cars loaded with items bound for destinations around the world.

Why not model semi-trucks? Does anyone have a “layout” made of winding roads full of trucks pulling trailers? I don’t think so, or maybe. But millions of model railroaders build layouts, large and small, with tracks carrying scale engines pulling scale trains. G scale, O scale, S, HO, N, and tiny Z scale provide a very wide range of opportunities for enthusiasts to live in their fascination with trains.

A model railroad is a work of art that begins with a blank canvass. The canvass may be a room measuring twenty-one feet by seven feet, like my own train room where I am building a shelf-style model railroad. It may be a larger room with only enough space for a four by eight feet layout. The important thing is the canvass is anywhere you choose, and will hold any dream you build.

Building a model railroad is identical to writing a novel, only different. Some people begin writing a novel with an idea but the characters are born and develop as the story is created. Other writers know their characters inside and out before the first word is penned. Still others begin with a blank sheet of paper and the story and characters create themselves. Sometimes characters do things the writer didn’t expect. Main characters become belligerent and demand freedom to change story lines on their own. Model railroads do that, too.

My Maple Valley Short Line demanded benchwork that would be strong enough to carry my own weight. I’m not a small man, so that was no easy task. The wall brackets were fastened to the cement blocks with three-inch masonry screws, after I drilled pilot holes in the wall. The drill bits in my impact driver had to be changed after drilling just three holes.

I attached the brackets to the wall leaving no more than twenty-four inches of space between them, which increased the strength of the bench. These brackets were used on a previous layout which was only twenty-four inches deep at the center. This layout is thirty-six inches deep at the middle, so the bracket arms had to be lengthened. I chose to attach a 1 x 3 inch board to each side of the arms, making sure the boards were tight against the wall, increasing arm stability. To provide even more stength, I attached a 2 x 2 inch support between each bracket, making sure each was level with the top of the bracket arm.

A good novel has layers of subplots adding suspense and apprehension about what the resolution might bring. Model railroads do the same. A layer of 3/8 inch plywood was added and attached to the bracket arms as the base of the layout. A layer of 1 1/2 inch extruded foam became the visible base. This is the same kind of insulating foam builders use in new house construction. Foam is a popular base as it makes attaching additional layers easy. I attached the foam pieces to the plywood with Liquid Nails.

When the base layer of foam was securely fastened in place, the obvious next step in the story was to build a bridge. Ahh, the first subplot. Who could have known the Maple Valley Short Line included mountains and a river when only a flat pink surface was visible? Every artist sees far beyond the simple strokes with which a masterpiece begins.

After completing a perfectly wonderful bridge, the next logical step was to build a larger trestle-style bridge, and then another. At this point in the story, characters begin to ask questions of the writer who created them. They start conversations with each other without asking permission.

In a novel plot there is a rise in the action. Trains will have to rise four inches to the height of the bridge decks. The solution to the problem of taking trains from the surface of the layout to the deck of a bridge is styrofoam risers. Grade percentage is an important consideration when choosing a riser. I wanted my locomotives to be able to pull many cars to four inches without difficulty. The result is sixteen feet of 2% grade. However, reaching the bridge height is not the only problem. Bringing the trains back down to the surface is also necessary, requiring another sixteen feet of 2% grade. Problem solved.

The next task was digging a river in the foam so the trestle-bridge would look terrific spanning it. Having never done it before, I decided the best way to create a river was to just start hacking away at the foam with a utility blade. I scraped, sliced, pealed, scratched, dug, and gouged until I was somewhat satisfied with the appearance of my foam riverbed.

I had to be careful to dig out a convincing river without exposing the plywood, so I only had 1 1/2 inches to use. I then used plaster-saturated paper towel to line and shape the riverbed, making sure the plaster material was thick enough to seal the surface and prevent epoxy from seeping through.

For a couple of months, I battled with how best to secure the trestle-bridge to the riverbed. I tried to avoid cutting down to the plywood, but ultimately for fool-proof stability, I did just that. I held the trestle in place and marked where the posts touched the riverbed. I then cut a rectangle a quarter inch wide, and just longer than the width of the posts. I glued basswood pieces, one at a time, in each of the gaps until they were the exact height needed to support the trestle. I was pleased to find the trestle rested securely on the footings. I glued the trestle permanently in place.

At this point in the novel, the characters were behaving themselves predictably. They stood back and let me do the work. The risers were finished, the trestle was rock solid. All eyes were on the process of laying cork roadbed on the track lines. I am suspicious when characters are quiet. Sometimes I don’t trust them, but please, don’t tell anyone I said that. Every writer and model railroader knows the thin line we walk between working a plan and a plan working us.

I avoid things I’m worried about. I’ll put them off until I can’t go on without dealing with the problems first. I don’t like being backed into a corner. When my plot included rise and fall, which all good plots do, I was trapped by the need for realistic gradual fall-away from the top of the risers to the surface. This is the point where I started listening closely to ideas from the characters. Some of them were stupid. Others caught my attention. Finally, a solution was found.

I cut strips of cardboard twelve to fourteen inches long. To determine the height of the strips, I measured the height of the riser from the point where cardboard would be attached, to the point it would end. On the cardboard, I marked the shorter measurement on one end, and marked the longer measurement on the other. I drew a line between the two points. I cut the carboard one inch beyond but parallel to the line. The extra inch creates a gradual, more realistic, fall-away from the top of the riser.

I placed the strip on the floor, then using the corner of a piece of 2 x 2 to hold it tight, I pulled the length of the strip under the corner edge of the wood to crush the cardboard cells. This makes the cardboard more flexible, especially helpful on curves. I then folded the the carboard on the line.

On straight sections of track, using masking tape, I secured the straight edge to the top of the riser. I taped the angled edge to the foam surface. If I was not happy with the angle, I repeated the process, but increased the height measurement until the fall-away angle met my approval.

On curves, there are a couple more steps. On the straight edge of the cardboard, I make a cut one quarter each deep, every half inch, the length of the cardboard strip. On the angled edge, I cut an inverted “V” about an inch and one half deep. This allows the cardboard to follow the curve and still maintain the same fall-away angle from the top of the riser.

When the cardboard was secured, it was now time for huge sloppy messes. Lots and lots of them. But that is a story for another day.

“I want to talk about it now,” Bertrand said.

“No, I’m done writing, I’ll write more later.”

“When?”

“When I want to.”

“Who put you in charge?”

“I created you, didn’t I?”

“Ok, I’ll stop now,” Bertrand said.

“Good idea.”

Tuesday Teacher – Mr. Shermer, Choir

Excerpt: “Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery” by Dale Parsons, All Rights Reserved

“Why do I have to learn how to sing? Why does the school need a choir? Whose idea was this, anyway?” Smivey thought as he walked to choir class. As he shuffles along, getting closer to the choir room he hears the voice of Luciano Pavorotti wafting through the hall. Every day it’s the same thing. Mr. Shermer plays the same music as students enter the room.

“Choir, just listen to this tremendous voice!” he always says, like it was the first time he ever said it, and the first time the students ever heard it. “Listen! Try to drink in the power of his voice, the depth of his emotion, the incredible strength of his spirit!” As the song concludes, Mr. Shermer continues, “Choir members, listen to me. Music carries the emotion of the soul like nothing else! Music communicates when every other voice is silent! Music can lift the spirit, give strength to the weak, courage to the fearful!” Smivey thinks maybe Mr. Shermer used to be a preacher. He doesn’t know where else he could have learned to give speeches like this.

“Choir, take out Springtime In My Love’s Caress, by Truman Calver” Mr. Shermer said, stepping to the podium.

“We shouldn’t be singing songs like this” Smivey thought as he found the music in his folder. “It’s so embarrassing.”

“Altos, I would like to begin with you today. Please start at measure fourteen. Miss Kirtz, their note please.”

Gretchin Kirtz has been taking piano lessons since she was four years old. Smivey can’t stand to watch her. She acts like she’s playing in front of thousands of people. She always sits straight up and nods when Mr. Shermer tells her what to do. She lifts her hand slowly, and gently brings her finger down on the key like she’s afraid it will splinter into a million pieces if she touches it too hard. “Okay altos, one and two and…”

“Softly, softly, walking through the meadow

“Feeling such a warmth within my breast…”

It’s the word “breast” that is just too much. “We shouldn’t be singing this. Why can’t we sing something by the Beatles? No one has ever heard of Truman Calver or his stupid song about something warm in my breast” Smivey thought as he heard muffled laughter coming from the back row.

“Gentlemen!” Mr. Shermer yelled as the altos stopped singing. “How many times must I tell you that the term “breast” in this song does not mean what you’re thinking! The breast is referred to as the deepest part of the heart. The songwriter is expressing his deep feeling for his one true love. Please choir. You can do this.”

“Okay, altos, one more time. One and two and…”

“Softly, softly, walking through the meadow

“Feeling such a warmth within my breast

“Gently, gently, she comes ever nearer

“Longing for the touch of my caress…”

“Very nice, very nice. Okay, choir, let’s start at the beginning. Miss Kirtz, the introduction please, one and two and…”

Gretchen plays the introduction perfectly, just like she does every time, and the choir began singing. In spite of Smivey’s thoughts about the song, it actually sounded pretty good. When Mr. Shermer first gave them the music Smivey decided to just stop singing when they got to the word “breast.” It reminded him too much of hearing his mother talking about healthy bowels.

“Softly, softly, walking through the meadow

“Feeling such a warmth within my breast”

Just at that moment there came a loud snort from the back row. Mr. Shermer stopped the choir. “Thomas Mindler, you go to the office this instant! Mr. Stoker, do you want to join him?”

“No,” Michael Stoker answered.

Mr. Shermer asked, “Mr. Herney, what is wrong with you?”

Steven Herney was laughing so hard his face was radish red but he hadn’t made a sound.

“Answer me!” Mr. Shermer demanded.

When Steven tried to talk he sprayed spit all over Smivey’s back.

“That’s it,” Mr. Shermer hollered, “You go to the office, too!”

Once the commotion had ended, Mr. Shermer started again. “Okay, choir, from the beginning of Mr. Calver’s piece. One and two and…”

Just at that moment the bell rang. Smivey was never so glad to hear anything in his life.

“Choir, remember, fall concert is coming up in three weeks. Make sure your parents have it on their calendar!” Mr. Shermer yelled as everyone hurried out of the classroom.

Copyright 2022 by Dale Parsons

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 18: Thanksgiving Day

It’s Thanksgiving Day in Maple Valley. How can there be a scandal hanging over town when it’s time to stir a sense of thankfulness for all the good things that people enjoy and take for granted? If only for a day, the folks who are still very worried about Sylvia Meisner are stepping back to spend time with families and enjoy traditional meals and skirmishes.

Mayor Alvin Thrashborn gave his annual Thanksgiving speech almost no one attends. He stood on the steps of the town hall, which is also the public library, and read from his notes he prepared last year. He mentioned his thankfulness for volunteers, business owners, neighbors and friends of Maple Valley. The mayor also mentioned Sylvia Meisner and thanked everyone who is still searching for her. Six people shook the mayor’s hand and thanked him for his inspiring recitation.

Quintin O’Dillmotte’s three brothers and their families are visiting from out of town. Sage O’Dillmotte runs the Colson County Landfill in Kwinhaven. He is very proud of the landfill’s notoriety as the largest of its kind across five states. Carlton O’Dillmotte is the curator of the village museum in Shilhauer. Harvest O’Dillmotte is the youngest brother in the family and has overcome a great deal of ridicule. Gordon O’Dilmotte, the boys’ father, farmed eighty-seven acres throughout his life and named his youngest son Harvest in thankfulness for his family’s greatest year on the farm.

Salvene O’Dillmotte, Quintin’s wife, prepared a beautiful meal of turkey liver soup, jello salad, homemade sausage, turnip greens, squash, and fresh fruit with whipped cream for dessert. The families do their best not to use the word “harvest” when they express thankfulness for the season.

Ver and Vee Burthrap make fig-prune-walnut crunch cookies every year to share with their neighbors. And every year when they discover no one is home, they walk over to Sheriff Pete Terkinberry’s house and give all of the cookies to him. Sheriff Pete expresses his appreciation to the sisters for their generosity and the next day he buries the cookies in the flower garden.

Shorty and Hannah Cloverton open the Y’all Sit Cafe on Thanksgiving Day from 7 until noon. In gratitude for the many years of business they have enjoyed in Maple Valley, they reduce prices on breakfasts by twenty percent. There are several people who eat free at the cafe on Thanksgiving morning. Shorty and Hannah never charge them because they know how they struggle at home.

Most families in Maple Valley stick to the familiar turkey dinner with all their favorite side dishes. Arguments always arise over whether the stuffing should be baked in the turkey or separately. The older of Maple Valley residents insist the stuffing must be loosely stuffed into the turkey. Others demand the stuffing be truly stuffed until it bulges from every possible turkey spot. The fight over whether turkey giblets should be included in the stuffing almost caused Gladys Kuerhing to stomp out of the house dragging Henry behind her. Luckily, Grandma Kuerhing won and the stuffing was delicious.

The Kafflen clan almost came to blows when Uncle Klem said Eliverna’s pie crust tasted like tennis ball fuzz. Able put his fork down and stared at his uncle, then said, “You sit in my house, at my table, under my roof, eating my food, and you say something like that about my Eliverna’s pie?! Apologize now!”

“Well, I can’t apologize for saying what’s true,” Klem said.

Standing up now, Abel loudly said, “I said, apologize, Klem, or you can get out of my house, now!”

Then Uncle Klem stood up and was about to speak when red-faced Aunt Wiletta, staring at her husband, spoke first. “Klem!! You apologize this instant and sit your butt in the chair!”

Klem Kafflen looked like a saggy balloon. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled as he deflated into his chair. The remainder of the Kafflen dinner was quiet.

Holiday meal time with extended family at the Shermer home is always interesting, and tense. The Reverend Shermer of Maple Valley Church eats while holding his breath. Although he’s not one to argue, it would be better if he was. His dear grandmother believes she is a blood and spiritual descendant of King David. She refers to herself as a princess and it’s always in third person.

The reverend can always tell when it’s about to start because Grandma asks some crazy question out of the blue.

“Grandma, will you pass the potatoes, please?” the reverend asks.
“Did you ever think about Melchizedek!?” Grandma shrieks.

“Mel who?” he says, knowing exactly what she’s doing as he scrambles for something to throw her off track.

“You’ve got gravy on your chin, Grandma.”

“When Princess Shermer comes into the kingdom, you will all be priests in the court of Kind David, and…” Grandma says as she gets that all-too-familiar dazed look on her face.

“Grandma! Stop!!” the reverend yells, embarrassing himself and his family. For now, the conversation has ended.

It’s been a good Thanksgiving Day in Maple Valley. Nothing has happened that wasn’t, at least in some way, expected. The meals were good. Most of the conversation was normal. Everyone thought of the things they are thankful for.

The Unknown Stories of Beach Glass

This is Cal and Elaine. They keep to themselves for the most part, but they have an incredible story.

If you were unaware that each piece of beach glass has a story, then you’ve come to the right place. These are the Unknown Stories of Beach Glass.

Cal and Elaine have been friends for a very long time. In fact, the love they share has seen them through difficulties not unlike those which many others have endured, but it’s worth noting they are still going strong.

Cal and Elaine are different. Very different. But their difference has only been noted by others. Cal and Elaine hear whispers again and again. Some are just downright rude and say they shouldn’t be together, but Cal and Elaine don’t care. Their love is not blind, but it is unconditional. Their only interest is for each other. Giving to each other is their highest goal. Need is not a word they use when communicating with each other. The two words they use most often are love and share.

Maybe no one would have expected Cal and Elaine to find each other. Elaine is very sharp, has angular and beautiful features. Many have accused her of being too transparent. She doesn’t care. Cal is round, quite overweight. He doesn’t plan and is often late for the few events he does attend. Elaine says he is her perfect soul mate as he tempers her obsessive tendencies.

Cal and Elaine were meant for each other. Perhaps not in anyone else’s eyes. But their eyes are the only ones that matter.

Bjorn, Ted, and Eric met at culinary school. Oddly enough, all three decided on a career as a chef against the wishes of their parents. Eric’s mom has worked in a restaurant most of her adult life and has never really enjoyed it. When Eric was little she used to take him to work with her. He spent his time sitting in a booth drawing pictures while his mom waited on customers. Sometimes he helped wash dishes.

Bjorn’s father patented a kitchen gadget that separates the egg from the yoke before the shell is broken. It’s the craziest thing! Use the gadget, crack the egg, the yoke is on the side of the white instead of the middle.

Bjorn’s father spends all of his time in kitchens talking chefs into buying his ingenious gadget. He can’t understand why Bjorn would want to spend a single day in a kitchen.

Ted’s parents own a pancake house franchise. They opened the first pancake house in their home town of Amshover, Missouri. No one has ever heard of Amshover and the pancake house is the busiest place in town. There isn’t even a grocery store in Amshover. There is a gas station, an urgent care center where Dr. Phillips actually delivered Ted because his mom waited too long to head for the nearest hospital forty-two miles away, a small elementary school, a bakery that closed last year, and the pancake house.

People came to the pancake house from many miles away. It wasn’t long before Ted’s parents decided to create a franchise and allow others to use their name, recipes, table linen designs, and logo for a huge franchise fee. They now have twenty-seven franchise partners. Ted’s parents were hoping he would become a doctor. Ted didn’t believe it was a wise choice because he becomes very dizzy at the sight of blood. He chose to become a chef.

Ammon, Wilkey, Doug, and Earl have been singing together for thirty-nine years. Ammon plays the dobro, Wilkey plays harmonica badly, Doug plays piano and guitar, Earl plays bass and doesn’t sing very well. There were five in the group for the first seventeen years. Ammon’s younger brother Ogden played drums, which was actually just a snare and cymbal. He had to quit after he got married and they never replaced him.

The group decided early on that if they were going to be on the road constantly it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to get married. They were right. After Ogden was married he continued playing shows with the group but Sylvia, his wife, threw such a fit about him being gone for two weeks he quit.

Ammon, Wilkey, Doug, and Earl still drive the same bus they’ve been traveling in since their first year together. The bus is part of their family and they don’t feel like they can let it go. The steering wheel is about the only thing that hasn’t been replaced. They got a ticket one time because the exhaust left a huge cloud in a little town. The engine was replaced, at huge cost, not long after. The guys are inseparable.

Rita and Francine can’t stand each other. They can hardly be in the same room before one of them says something critical about the other and away they go! Yelling insults and bringing up things that happened years ago. Someone suggested counseling and the two of them joined together for once to pummel the other with a list of words a drunken sailor would have been proud of.

Francine is ill. Unfortunately, the prognosis is not good. She has been to several specialists and they all say the same thing. She would give up except Rita is constantly by her side, giving her every reason to keep fighting. Rita is unwilling to let her enemy go and is giving incredible strength to Francine for one more day.

Cal and Elaine. So different yet they don’t see it.

Bjorn, Ted, and Eric. They refused to give in to pressure and continue going the way they’ve chosen.

Ammon, Wilkey, Doug, and Earl. After thirty-nine years, still going strong and unwilling to quit even though no one remembers their names.

Rita and Francine. Enemies who would give the world for each other.

The unknown stories of beach glass. Fascinating. The stories lie on the beach, forgotten and alone until someone comes along to listen.

Copyright 2020 by Dale Parsons
Photos and Blog Post by Dale Parsons

Seriously Grateful

Blog and Photos by Dale Parsons

I followed the WordPress Discovery Prompts for 30 days. The last prompt was the word grateful. Rather than writing something serious, I chose to make it light and goofy. For example, saying I’m grateful my name isn’t Sigmund. Sigmund isn’t a bad name, I’m just grateful it’s not mine. I should have taken more time and expressed serious gratitude for so many things, and people. I’m doing that now.

Grateful means one thing to me. Family. It isn’t possible to put everything family means in a post like this. Or a book. Or a series of books. People spend lifetimes putting together scrapbooks of black and white photos, then Polaroid color photos, then color photos developed by Kodak, then printed digital photos, and now they’re viewed on a tiny screen, thousands of them, stored in a little flat box not much bigger than a business card you carry in your pocket. Not only that, but you talk to people with your camera now, and you can watch TV, listen to the radio, and look up all kinds of things. The one great thing about it is that instead of your family photos being stuffed in large books on a shelf at home, you carry everything with you all the time.

I don’t know if we ever dreamed we would have eight (at this point) grandchildren, but we do. We have reached the point where getting everyone together in one place is difficult. They’re all so busy with their families and work. Life recycles. When we were younger we had to travel to see my family and my wife’s family. Now it’s happening again. We’re the ones who often travel to see everyone. We love it.

These guys are our closest buddies, just a few miles from where we live. The photo is a few years old. The one in the middle is now taller than I am, and I’m 6’3”. At least I used to be.

This is what always happens to me at some point or other. I didn’t find out until years later the little guy on the left was copying me. He’s not really sleeping!

The little one I’m holding just celebrated her 1st birthday. Our son’s family lives in the Chicago area where he is an adjunct professor of Philosophy.

This young man will carry on the tradition of model railroading. We passed the family Lionel trains to him.

The little man in my wife’s arms is the youngest of our grandchildren. He lives with his family in the Nashville area where his mom and dad are on staff at a great church.

This is so cute!!

We are so grateful for an amazing son-in-law, and three beautiful daughters-in-law. They are all incredible, talented people. We are so blessed they are all part of our family.

Stories don’t make it. Photos only try. Just one word.

Grateful.

Foam Risers or Not? Cork Roadbed or Not?

Photos and Blog by Dale Parsons


My first layout was a learning experience, as I guess they all are. There was a lot of “what not to do.” I planned carefully, and even had trains running on sub-roadbed and track that was tacked temporarily. It was not until after the track was permanent that I realized some important mistakes.

The most costly mistake I made on my first layout was that my inclines were too steep. I created them by estimating the space I had and how quickly I wanted the train to return to ground level. That’s fine if you have a ton of space, but it will mean steep inclines, as it did for me, if your space is limited. My layout was a “L” shaped reverse dog bone design. I like watching trains going over and under each other. My steep inclines meant my engines could only pull a small handful of cars.

That layout was never completed because we moved. I completely dismantled it. The only parts I kept were the track, buildings, and trees.

My second layout was single-level. No climbing or descending. No hills or tunnels. No inclines to worry about. It was basically a switching layout with a full loop so I could run trains constantly, which I prefer.

When I dismantled that layout because we were moving again, it was a much easier task. Virtually everything was salvageable. Even though I glued and nailed the track down, it came up very easily. I kept all of the pieces.

The track has been through the mill. When I took the first layout apart, we moved to a house where there was no room for any railroading. All of my track was in a box in our barn. After a few years, I took it out. Most of it was covered with everything mice leave behind. I considered tossing it, but then I thought about how much nickel-silver track costs. I bought a couple of track cleaning blocks and started scrubbing. I’m still using that same track with no problems.

We moved to the house where we presently live. Hopefully, the last time we will move. My new layout is basic, no clever design schemes, just two mainlines for simultaneous train operation and some sidings. There is a long branch line that runs from one end of the layout to the other. The destination is Maple Valley. The train running the line will be a vintage model engine like “The General” and a few cars. Passengers will board the train at “Little Town” on the opposite end of the layout for the ride to Maple Valley.

My first big decision was whether or not to use Woodland Scenics risers. As you can see, I did, and I am so happy I chose to use the 2% incline/decline. A 2% incline means I need 16 feet of space for the track to be lifted four inches. In the middle of the photo, you can see where the incline and decline comes together with about two feet to spare. It’s just enough room for turnouts from both directions so I can choose to move trains to or from the longer outside mainline.

My next question was how to attach the styrofoam risers to the extruded foam base. I chose undiluted white glue which I bought in a gallon jug. I pinned the riser where I wanted it and drew a line on either side of the riser with a black marker. I removed the pins and the riser. I brushed white glue on the foam base the length of the first riser. I then replaced the riser, pinned it in place, and weighted it down with anything I could find. I left it overnight to dry.

I have seen some videos where modelers put masking tape over the riser before installing the final roadbed. I started to do the same but removed it because I was afraid if the tape came loose the roadbed would be loose as well.

The next question was whether or not to use cork roadbed, and as you can see I chose the cork. I didn’t use it on my last shelf layout. I ballasted the track without cork and it turned out alright. I’m glad I chose to use cork this time as it looks more realistic to me.

I used undiluted white glue to attach the roadbed, using the same method I used with the foam risers. I first drew my track plan directly on the pink foam using exact radius templates for the curves, and a yard-stick for the mostly-straight areas. I lined the inside of the cork against the track line mark and made another mark on the outside of the cork, and also marked the end of the cork piece. I removed the cork and applied glue to the foam. I pinned the cork down with 1-1/2 inch “T-pins” on the bevel. Once I had both sides in place, I weighted the cork. I laid as much cork at one time as I had weights for. I then left it overnight.

I didn’t buy turnout foam, instead choosing to cut the cork to fit the turnouts. I might regret that, we’ll see.

My next task was making a curvy 4 inch riser to meet the ends of the two 2% inclines on either end of the layout. I chose to make my own rather than buy an additional package of risers from the hobby shop. It was a lot of work but I’m confident it will work fine. Since I took this photo, I have cut two tunnels through my homemade riser.

The riser is two pieces of 1-1/2 inch foam plus a 1 inch piece between. I drew the design on a large piece of paper, cut it out 2 inches wide. I placed my paper template on the foam and cut it with a razor utility knife. I then glued the three pieces of foam together with white glue, weighting them heavily.

When I was happy with the way the risers turned out, I glued them to the foam surface and pinned them in place. I weighted them and left it for a couple of days.

I have about ten or fifteen more feet of cork to apply, then I will be ready to start laying track. I have to decide where my blocks are going to be and plan my wiring lines accordingly.

Model railroading is a fantastic hobby. It is especially fun to take photos and videos as steps are taken so it’s easy to see how much progress is being made. I’m learning that slow and steady is best. Now that I’m retired, slow has taken on a whole new meaning.

I need more coffee.

Grateful! Discovery Prompts Day 30!

Well, I’ve reached the end of the Discover Prompts provided by WordPress. They do this every April, but since I wasn’t blogging like a fiend in April, I started using the prompts thirty days ago. So, does that mean I have nothing else to write about because no one is giving me a topic? Oh, no, my friends. I have sooo much to expound upon in literary prose that I will keep busy for a very long time.

The final prompt is grateful. There are so many things for which to be grateful, it is not difficult to begin. It will actually be difficult to end. Just when I think I’ve exhausted the list, more thoughts arise. So, here goes.

I’m thankful to have a neck. If it weren’t for my neck, my head would be attached directly to my shoulders, making it very difficult to turn when someone calls my name. Obviously, I could turn my whole body around, which I would have to do if I didn’t have a neck, but then I might trip over something that was previously in front of me but is now behind me.

I’m thankful my name is not Sigmund. I have never liked the name Dale, but I dislike the name Sigmund even more. I would have grown up being called Sig, (no one would have ever called me Mund), and that would have been very annoying. I have been called all kinds of things, many of which can’t be listed here. But I would prefer being called Dork, or almost anything else to being called Sigmund.

I’m grateful for knees. Stick figures illustrate how important it is to have knees. We should all be thankful. If it weren’t for knees, our walking would be stilted. Falling would be particularly dangerous and landing on our faces would be more frequent.

I’m thankful for tortilla chips. They are the perfect snack when I want something but I don’t know what. Chocolate? No. Milk? No. Spaghetti? No. Egg Plant? No. Tortilla chips are the go-to every time I just need something to chew. Crunchy.

I’m grateful for doorknobs. I’ve have been locked out of the house, by my own doing, and getting back into the house would be far more difficult if there were no doorknobs.

I’m grateful for paint stir sticks. When I forget to have paint stirred at the store, I have to mix it myself. I would have to use my hand if there were no stir sticks. I take so many things for granted, it’s good to remind myself about all the things I am grateful for.

I’m grate for toothbrush handles. If it weren’t for the handles, I would have to hold the bristles between my fingers. It would be so much more tedious to brush my teeth without a toothbrush handle.

I’m grateful for spoons. I do occasionally eat ice cream with a fork if I’m eating it right out of the carton. My wife prefers that I not do this, but when she’s not around, she doesn’t know. I get our ice cream at night when we’re watching our new Netflix or Amazon Prime series, so she doesn’t see the little fork marks in the ice cream. Ice cream inevitably melts as you’re eating it. So eating it with a fork would be difficult. It would also be hard to put a bite of ice cream in your mouth and take it out while smoothing the top, like everyone does, with a fork. I’m grateful ice cream is the only food we put into our mouths and then take it out.

I’m grateful for plastic milk bottles. Drinking out of a carton with the triangle opening at the top is difficult. Most often the milk pours out the sides and runs down my cheeks and onto my shirt. Drinking out of a plastic milk bottle is much easier. Not that I actually do that anymore.

I’m grateful for toast and frosted mini-wheats. One piece of toast and about ten frosted mini-wheats with a cup of hot tea is an incredible snack late at night while we’re watching TV. Of course I have to give at least one to Maggie as she loves mini-wheats. I usually take out a few extra to share because I’m not will to have less than ten. I try to chew them quietly. They can be noisy if I’m not careful.

Extension cords deserve more gratitude. If it weren’t for extension cords, our walls would be far more crowded with things that have to be plugged in. All of our furniture would have to be the height that anything electric placed on top would have a cord long enough to reach the plug. Electric items would have to take turns because there probably wouldn’t be enough wall plugs for everything.

I’m grateful for radio stations. When I’m turning the dial on the radio trying to find something to listen to, its gratifying to hear plenty of choices vying for attention before I finally decide to listen to Pandora.

I’m definitely grateful for bubble wrap. The joy of sitting and popping the bubbles in bubble wrap is hard to beat.

I’m grateful my childhood dentist was wrong. He said I wouldn’t have any teeth by the time I was sixty. I’m way over sixty and I still have my own teeth. Most of them have been repaired, capped, crowned, drilled, filled, ground and polished, but they’re mine and I’m proud to have them.

I’m grateful for taste, smells, food, drinks, coffee, mochas, water, tea, jokes, tears, yawns, sneezes, kleenex, napkins, egg cartons, Tupperware, refrigerators, ice cream, bread, butter, jam, cheese, frying pans, cinnamon rolls, deep-fried pieces of cinnamon rolls with powdered sugar icing on them, extra powdered sugar icing, sidewalks, tires, trees, flowers, ants, bees, (not wasps), wood, grass, lawnmowers, birds, squirrels, dogs, movies, music, Netflix, computers, iPads, tin cans and string, sticks, dirt, stones, asphalt, highways, dirt roads, pathways, wooden docks, donuts, candy, M&Ms, almonds, Oreos, chocolate chips, Oatmeal, Cocoa-Puffs, gum, turn signals, stop signs, “Signs” the movie, instruments, those who play instruments, teachers, doctors, nurses, neighbors, friends, police officers, store owners, gas stations, jobs, paychecks, careers, laughter, hunger, thirst, fishing poles, bobbers, empty fields, tractors, hay, tomatoes, lettuce, bacon, pepper, avocado, plastic, rubber, glass, blankets, t-shirts, dishwashers, clothes dryers, two-by-fours, nails, glasses, suspenders, pants, hats, and pancakes.

It’s impossible to list all we are grateful for. When we try, it is a powerful reminder.

There is nothing for which I am
more grateful than our family.



Dale Parsons

Discover Prompts Day 29: Lists

I believe that age is in direct correlation to the length of your lists. If you are young, your list, if you have one at all, is very small. If you are middle-age, if you use lists, you don’t tell anyone. If you’re our age, your lists are long and detailed. In fact, you have lists to tell you what lists you have. Your lists have categories so you can quickly find your list.

The detail on your list is also quite telling. Almost everyone writes a list when it’s time to go to the store. When you start writing lists to remind yourself of what to do during the day, that can be very helpful and is a descriptor of a person who is well organized. If your lists are telling you how to do things you have been doing for years, that is something different all together.

Writing a list of all the things to remember when you are getting ready to travel is a good idea. Travel is stressful. The older you are the more stressful it is. At some point, it becomes much easier to stay home. At home you know exactly where everything is and no lists are necessary. When it’s time to pack a suitcase, you have to make a list of everything in the suitcase so you don’t have to unpack it before you leave because you can’t remember what you put in it. It is also important to make a list of your suitcases and they should be numbered as well.

There may also be a time when you stop trusting that you really did what you checked off. Did I really do that? I don’t remember closing the garage door, but I checked it off the list. What if I checked it off thinking I would close the door next, but forgot. Now you are doubting your list. That’s a real problem.

Here are some simple things to help you with your lists.

1. Color-code your lists. Red – very important. Yellow – important but not critical. Green – it’s on the list but it won’t matter if you forget it.

2. Use sticky notes. Sticky notes are God’s gift to the elderly. Sticky notes are another direct correlation to age. If your kitchen looks like you are trying to wallpaper it with sticky notes, you are definitely in your middle 70s. If your bathroom is completely papered with sticky notes, you are at least 84.

3. Put shopping lists in your refrigerator. You don’t go a single day without opening your fridge, so if your food related lists are in the fridge, you will be sure to buy the food you actually need.

4. Do not, under any circumstances, put sticky notes on the windshield of your car. You will be reading them or trying to write on them as you’re driving and that’s never a good idea.

5. Your underwear drawer is another great place to keep lists, for obvious reasons.

6. Placing sticky notes on the toilet paper holder is not advisable. That prickly feeling might be a sticky note.

7. Be kind to your lists and they will be kind to you. If you forget something, it is not the list’s fault. You are the one who forgot to check it.

So many unanticipated things can happen if you do not use lists. Everyone knows you should not go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You should also not go anywhere without a list.

Maps are to travel as lists are to living. Lists provide considerable protection from making unwise choices. For example, you go to the store without a list, intending to buy a cantaloupe, some strawberries, and a gallon of milk. Instead you come home with a new circular saw because you started thinking about a project on the way to the store and completely forgot you were going for groceries and ended up at Home Depot. Not a good idea.

If digestion is becoming a problem, you will want to make a list of the items you shouldn’t eat. Depending on the effects of eating the things you shouldn’t, you might want to allow your spouse access to your list as well. For example, if baloney affects you badly, put it on the list. If cheese becomes an effective means of stopping all forward progress, put it on the list.

There are many reasons lists are important for happy living. As your years begin to accumulate, you realize lists exist for very good reasons. One thing I don’t think I’ll ever have to put on any list is, “drink coffee.”

Dale Parsons