Tom – a short story

My husband, Dan, hated my piece entitled ‘Foxy’. I think that he took it as a subliminal personal message to communicate what might happen if I were to come down with Alzheimer’s. He, therefore, challenged me to write another story in which the sufferer takes a different path. I’ve been so busy with family and architecture the last few weeks that this one has been a long time in gestation.

Tom opened his eyes at precisely 5 am. This was not unusual because, as long as anyone could remember, he had always woken up at this time. Early dawn, first light is the time that dairy farmers start their day’s work. It was several decades since Tom had milked cows but he still maintained the strict regime of rising early. It was second nature to him and a personal source of pride. What was unusual was that, when he looked around, he recognized nothing. He was in a strange bed in an even stranger room. He attempted to swing his legs over the side of the bed in order to stand up. This was when he realized that he was connected to several machines. He yanked the cuff off his finger, and a loud beep permeated the room. The noise annoyed him as he continued to disentangle himself. He roughly yanked the IV stent out of the vein in his wrist. The site began to bleed, but seeing his own blood didn’t worry him nearly as much as the strange room and the annoying beep.

Now that he was unencumbered by medical equipment, he again let his legs slide over the side of the bed and stood. He moved shakily towards the beeping machine. He thought that it looked rather like a television set and hoped that he would be able to tune it to the News. He couldn’t, but kept pressing buttons until it went silent. He opened the nearest door, pleased to find a bathroom. He used the facilities. When he had finished he turned and looked at himself in the mirror. At first he didn’t recognize the image facing him. Staring back were grey-blue eyes in the face a very thin elderly man, in need of a shave. The man wore a curious white head-dress. He turned and looked behind him, and then waived his hands in front of the reflection to verify that it was his own. His next thought was that, perhaps, he had died and gone to heaven and that this was heavenly garb. The belief that this might be so kept him from attempting to remove it.

Thoughts about heaven were not unusual to Tom. He had a staunch belief in its existence and knew that, one day, he would be there. However, the more he thought about it, the more, he realized that this strange room did not conform to his concept of heaven. There were no heavenly beings, there was no gold, and there was no sense of peace. He decided to try the room’s second door. It was large but opened with ease. He peeped out, a long hall greeted him: its floor, a gleaming polished vinyl; its lighting, fluorescent; its walls, punctuated by doors like his own. He began to walk, his bare feet slipping on the smooth floor; he grabbed the bumper rail on the wall to give himself additional support. Eventually the hall opened out into an area in which he could see more machines and one person in front of them. She seemed to be sleeping, and so he crept considerately past, anxious not to awake her. Beyond her he came to an elevator. He boarded, and selected the floor designated by a star.

When Tom emerged from the elevator he found himself in a large well illuminated space with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a small garden flanked by a road. By now the sun was beginning to rise and bathed the scene beyond the windows in a pink glow. Perhaps, thought Tom, this is what heaven looks like. Curiously, he didn’t go outside, but instead turned to one of the chairs in the space began to watch television. He listened to the monotonous voice of the reporter telling the same story that he thought that he had heard many times before. He loved to listen to the news but today he didn’t concentrate, or comprehend the story. By now it was almost 8 o’clock and he began to feel tired. On a normal day he would take his first nap at about this time. Unfortunately the teal and pink upholstered chairs had arms so that he could not lie down on them. As he sat there wondering what to do, he noticed a patch of sunlight on the carpeted floor. He lay down on it enjoying its warmth on his bare back, exposed by his flimsy hospital robe. He slept. Soon his loud snores resonated across the space.

When the volunteer who manned the reception desk arrived she was immediately drawn to the prostate figure sleeping noisily on the floor. She shook him. He awoke and stared blankly at her. She spoke:

“I don’t think that you should be here. Why don’t you come over to my desk and I’ll try to find where you ought to be.”

When they reached her desk, she gently questioned him:

“Tell me your name please. If I put it in the computer it should be able to tell me where your room is then I can get an orderly to assist you in returning there.”

Tom looked blank. She repeated the question, “Your name?”

“Tom Tschetter.”

“Thomas Tschetter”

‘No it is Tom, not Thomas.” Tom looked frustrated and began to move away from the desk. Yes there must be lots of people to keep track of in heaven but couldn’t God, or one of his angels, recognize him? Didn’t they know every hair on his head? He reached up and touched his bandaged head – perhaps the problem was that his hair was covered. Before he could start removing the bandage she slipped her hand over the desk and patted his arm reassuringly.

“But I need your full name that is how it always appears in the computer.”

“Tom C. Tschetter.”

“But you were baptized Thomas, right? And surely the C. stands for something?”

The mention of baptism reassured Tom, he thought that at least they were on the right track now. He spoke, “Baptized Tom C. That’s to differentiate from the other Tom Tschetters.”

“Oh, I see.” She nodded her head although she didn’t really understand. She entered his name into the computer, the telephone rang and she talked to a nurse on Tom’s floor. She nodded as she gathered their input. Yes they were looking for him, and his wife, Anna Katrina, was with them. The last time that he had gone AWOL he had been found several miles off walking along the edge of a freeway. Thank goodness he had only strayed into the lobby.

Back in his room, Tom moved towards Anna, and when she gave him an affectionate hug he responded with equal feeling. He found her presence reassuring and listened obediently to the soothing sound of her voice. He let her words wash over him and envelope him in their familiarity. His thoughts of heaven had now vanished; they were replaced by a burning desire to go home. The third time that she told him that they had to wait for a doctor he registered and sat, impatient, in a chair next to her. She held his hand and stroked his fingers. Together they gazed out of the window into a copse of trees filled with birds. Their chirping was so loud that Tom could hear it through the triple glazed windows.

When the surgeon and another doctor arrived he took a cue from Anna and allowed them to poke and peer at his body, his near nudity didn’t embarrass him. Their prognosis was that the surgery had been a success and they had been able to remove the cancer from the center of his brain. They recommended chemotherapy and tests to locate the origin of the cancer but Tom was impatient all he wanted to do was to go home. Anna discoursed at length with them as they talked about probabilities, a prognosis and quality of life. Tom didn’t follow their discourse; instead he let their chatter blend in with the sound of the birds outside the window. When pressed he brought his mind back into the room and made his one desire known.

“I wish to go home. I need to enjoy God’s creation, hear the birds,” he cupped his hand around an exposed ear, “hear the birds, they call.”

“But, Tom don’t you think that….” Anna’s voice trailed off as she looked at Tom’s resolute face,

“Home, I need home. Enough medicine is enough. I have no need; I have no pain.”

The hospital sent Tom home later that day. The staff were amazed by the speed of his recovery from the surgery and wished Anna all the best for the coming months which promised to deliver much for her to cope with.

Everything that the doctors had told them turned out as expected. Tom’s cognitive skills slowly deteriorated while the cancer in the rest of his body gradually sucked his energy. Daily he became more child-like and dependent while Anna nursed with love. It has been said that when dementia sets in a person adopts their “true” personality. If domineering they become overly demanding and critical descending into an unhappy state of anger. If kind and considerate they are happy and appreciative. Tom had never been known to say an unkind thing about anyone, except, perhaps embarking on an understandable session of politician bashing. He had always been very talkative and now he talked about crops, the weather and the ‘dirty thirties’. As time went on the ‘dirty thirties’ took precedence over other topics, but his words were always kind. Anna nodded and nursed. Later, as his life ebbed, he gradually became taciturn.

About a year later Tom’s cancer defeated him and he died peacefully in his home lying in a make-shift hospital bed in front of a picture window which commanded a view over the countryside. His funeral was well attended and many offered special condolences to Anna complimenting her on her dedication and querying her on how she had managed to remain so up-beat and apparently content through the trial of Tom’s decline. Their comments seemed to surprise her as she responded.

“Tom and I were very close this last year. It might seem strange to an outsider but I wouldn’t trade our last year together for anything! I know that he felt likewise.”

The Bone

This piece began as an idea which I morphed to meet the week’s Speakeasy challenge, for a less than 750 word story beginning with the words, “Tell me if you’re game,” referencing the picture below and without reference to family. I didn’t complete in time to submit and rather suspect that I intentionally missed the deadline to avoid the disappointment of not getting selected. If any of my faithful readers want a good story there are some winners, well worth reading, on Speakeasy.


“Tell me if you’re game.” The five men nodded in unison, Joe and Mike, the two youngest, exchanged a high-five. The others looked less excited; they had been here before and knew that any work involving digging, even in a public park adjacent to green playing fields, involved surprises. They could upset some ardent conservationist group, hit an undocumented utility, or a huge rock, uncover a limestone cave entrance, water or, heaven forbid, an endangered species habitat or artifact; or they could be rained out or have an accident. Any of these would put the plan off schedule and ruin their “game,” compromising their hoped for early completion bonus. Underground utility work was like that.

After the first week their hopes were up, they were ahead of schedule. The site smelled of raw earth and the deep trench was almost 75% dug. The Cat’s incessant “beep, beep” as it backed up accompanied by the clanking of its long arm and earth scoop filled their days. Pipe was delivered and they began to lay the first section.

Everything came to a halt at Mike’s shout, “A bone, that’s a bone.”

They grouped around Mike to inspect it, happy for relief from the Cat’s noise and for a moment of relaxation from their labors. The bone lay in the dirt and mocked them white and clean about twenty inches long – too big for a cat or a dog and, fortunately, too small for a dinosaur. Their foreman shook his head sadly, “Damn, there goes our completion bonus.” He sighed, “Surely that bone is human. We can’t hide it. We’ll have to call the police.”

He gingerly picked up the bone so that he could describe it to the police dispatcher, “Old, looks like a human femur, one end appears to be mauled, I think it’s the hip-joint end. The other end, I think it’s the knee-joint end, is clean with a small hole through it. Yeah a small hole, looks as though it was drilled. Yep, odd, but that’s what I see.”

Two squad cars arrived. They interviewed the crew and cordoned off the area. They put the bone in a large plastic bag ready to send to their forensic pathologist. They told the crew to limit activities to those outside the “area of concern.” No one said “crime scene” but it was obvious that this is what was on everyone’s mind. A police team would be out the next day to search the area for the rest of the skeleton.

A crowd of onlookers materialized out of nowhere; they were accompanied by the press. The newspaper cameramen photographed the site and the attractive reporter interviewed anyone willing to talk. The work gang wondered whether this attention made up for their loss, while the foreman agonized over the probability that this delay would incur a late penalty.

The next day the local newspaper carried a story “Tortured bone found”. They included a scholarly dissertation on the last fifty years of unsolved murders. Days later, when the thorough Police sponsored search had turned up no additional relics, the newspaper reported on the pathologist’s report and confirmed that the bone, almost 100 years old, was a right male femur from a man in his sixties. They called for their readers to assist in solving the mystery. Why was the bone here? Where was the rest of the skeleton? Why did the bone have that curious hole in it? When had the hole been made?

Macabre explanations poured in, each more extraordinary than the last. Just when interest was lagging the newspaper received a letter from a Dr. Moore. He wrote that his grandfather, also a doctor, had owned a full closet skeleton. He had lived close to the site where the bone was found. When he died, about twenty years ago, Dr. Moore had decided that the skeleton should be deconstructed and given a “decent” graveyard burial. But when he prepared the bones his dog, a large Great Dane, had made off with the right femur and he had never been able to find. He was certain that this was the missing bone, identified by age, size and the telltale hole drilled for the connecting articulation wires. He asked that it be assigned to him for interment beside the rest of the skeleton. He praised the construction crew and offered his own gift of $5,000 to them. He wrote, “Consider it a thank-you on behalf of the skeleton.”




“Alzheimer’s, early stages,” said Dr. Moore. He reached over his tidy desk and patted Edith’s clenched hand, “I know that’s bad news;” he paused and sighed, “but the good news is that we can mitigate and delay many of the symptoms and you still have a long time.” As he droned on describing treatment options Edith let her thoughts wander, glad that she could still control them. She had watched her mother die of this same affliction and she knew, without even going through an analysis, that she was not going to put her family through the same pain.

As she drove home she began to make plans. “I must get my affairs in order, I must clean out my belongings and then,” she paused as she stopped in a school zone and watched school children crossing the street, their youthful voices carefree and shrill. A dog bounded down the sidewalk and her mind drifted as she mused that when he was dying his owners would “do the right thing” and “put him out of his misery.” Dr. Moore hadn’t mentioned that possibility, or had he? Edith couldn’t remember. When the road was clear she drove again, and spoke to her car radio, “How and when will I be put out of my misery?” She often talked to the car radio and now told it “The problem is when?” again she stopped and then took up the thread of her thoughts again. “It can’t be too long or I’ll be too far gone.”

Edith felt relief in knowing and experienced a renewed burst of energy. Some things were easy like rewriting her will; others were more difficult including cleaning out her clutter – accumulations of possessions of a lifetime. Daily she fought to conceal her forgetfulness writing herself notes to remind herself to remember to do things. Sometimes she agonized over her decision, momentarily questioning herself whether what she planned to do would be considered “ethical”. She longed to tell her children, but knew that such a disclosure would be tantamount to aborting her scheme. There would be tears and recriminations and discussions about the sanctity of life and little said about the quality. “After all,” she repeatedly reminded herself, “when the active mind is dead there is no meaningful life.”

The last place to clean out was the attic. Here, in a far corner, she found an old box of her mother’s clothing. Inside was a shiny black fox pelt. It was set into an article of women’s clothing so popular in the 1930s, with the mouth transformed into a clip, and the eyes replaced by shiny yellow glass orbs. Edith took it downstairs to her bedroom. She stood before her mirror and wrapped it around her shoulders. She clipped the mouth onto the white-tipped tail and marveled at the silkiness of its soft caress.

She took to wearing the fur all the time. It came to symbolize her impending death; its sleek blackness wrapped around her shoulders in soft embrace. The last step of her journey didn’t take much planning as she knew that it had to be clean, so that nothing despoiled the pelt which, she wrote, was to be buried with her. The day she chose for her departure, was the anniversary of her mother’s death, and turned out to be one of those brilliant sunny spring days when most living things celebrate life. At sunset she filled the car with gas and drove to a secluded spot in her favorite park overlooking the river. She attached a hose to the exhaust and wedged it into the rear window and then sat in the driver’s seat stroking her coat and listening to the soft purr of the engine.

She was already beginning to feel drowsy when a brown moth with yellow patterned wings flew out of her surrounding pelt. A sun ray streamed in through the car window and silhouetted it in a radiant halo. For a moment she thought that she ought to try to help it; but by now her hands felt heavy and all she could do was gaze and marvel at its beauty. As she watched, it fluttered for a moment, magnificent in its struggle, then wilted and lay still. She closed her eyes and embraced her own imminent flutter and ensuing stillness with a deep sigh of content.



2:30 am Surprise

My youngest daughter who is a medical doctor is presently serving in the remote Karanda hospital in Zimbabwe. I lifted the following story from her blog. She says that the only course for which she ever got a B was in writing but I find this true story touching and so I thought that I’d share it. If you are interested you can access Anne’s blog through the following link:

Two nights ago when I was on call at the hospital, I received a phone call at 230am from the maternity ward requesting for me to come do a C section.  I asked why the patient needed a C section.  I was told on the phone it was her fourth C section, or at least that’s what I thought the nurse said.  I clarified, “it is her fourth C section?”  The nurse said, “yes”.  I asked, “is she in labor?”  Again, “yes”.   So I said I would be right in.

Upon arrival to the operating room where anesthesia was already putting in a spinal, I noticed that her abdomen did not have an apparent scar on it. I asked, “I do not see a scar, why are we doing a C section?” The anesthetist said, “for tubal.” At least that’s what I thought he said. I thought this was a somewhat odd indication for a C section, although it would not be the first time I had seen it done (even in the United States). But I clarified again, because when he said “tubal” it did not sound crisp and clear. He said, “tubal” again. And then I repeated it, to which he replied “yes”.

So we started a C section without any problems. The time came when I entered the uterus and pulled out the infant. It was smaller than I had anticipated, and I thought it must be growth restricted. I next pulled the placenta out, but noted that the uterus was still quite large. So I reached in while thinking, I wonder if there is a twin that nobody knew about? Sure enough, I could feel another infant! So I broke its amniotic sac and pulled it out, followed by the placenta. At that moment, I thought, “oh they must have been saying twins when I thought they said tubal,” as nobody else but me seemed surprised in the room. But given that I had been surprised by one extra infant inside the uterus, I thought I should be sure and thoroughly explore the uterus to make sure there were no more surprises. Sure enough, a third infant was inside, also with its own amniotic sac and placenta. Triplets.

All the babies and mother did fine. 1.4, 1.5 and 1.7 kilograms. 2 boys, 1 girl.

Only in Africa.


© April 2014, Anne Hofer

The Song of the Maori Kupe

Everywhere you go in New Zealand you see unique land forms and find that each has an associated Maori legend explaining its origin. Some of the most intriguing traditions relate to the Maori fisherman leader-cum-adventurer Kupe. He is credited by the Maori to have discovered New Zealand.

The Maori enjoy song and this put Longfellow’s epic poem ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ in mind. I present this poem as a tribute to the Maori Kupe and with apologies to both the Maori and Longfellow for the many foibles which my work inevitably contains.

Maori words are hard for us to pronounce but know that ‘wh’ is spoken as ‘f’. This sets the octopus’s phonetic name as close as we can get as ‘Te-feke’. Since many of the Maori words and names which I use for their poetic ring, are unique I also give an explanatory list at the end of this piece.

I  Introduction

Should you ask me, whence this song,
Whence this legend, and mythology,
Of islands cradled in saline foam?
I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the lands of Aotearoa,
From the islands of long white cloud,”
Should you ask where Aotearoa,
Found this story and tradition?
I should tell you,
“In the minds of the Maori,
In the golden sanded beaches,
In the languid coves and inlets,
In the rocks rent by seas,
In the thermal inland mud pits,
In the eely mountain lakes,
In the precipitous fjords,
In the songs of the land.”
If further, you should ask me,
I should answer, I should tell you,
“Ascend the Nelson city mount
Take in mysterious beech forest air,
Breathe the milky morning mist,
Climb to the ‘Center of New Zealand’,
Read the Maori legend inscription,
Disregard the cited Kupe story,
Myth of kidnapping and murder,
Myth of fleeing and revenge.
Instead, listen carefully to my verse
This truly quoted epic of Kupe’s band
Dream of the birthing of a land.”

II The Maori Kupe and Muturangi

In the vast blue Pacific Ocean,
In the fish-filled Bay of Plenty,
On the island of Hawaiki,
Lived the noble Maori, Kupe.
Strong in limb, keen of eye.
Skilled rangatira fisherman.
Moon and tide pull together,
Put out to sea on cradling waves,
Returned, fish laden waka,
Gifts from Tangaroa and Hinemoana.
Seagulls swooping, squawking,
Fed waiting people on sandy shore,
Wondrous plenty to share and more.
Then, one day, there were no fish
All luring bait nibbled clean
Day after day the whanau hungered.
Called a hui around evening fire
“Did our rangatira anger Tangaroa?
That fishless, we must starve?”
Kupe spoke of respect for the seas,
Spoke of unfailing love for Tangaroa.
Stood resolute, handsome, tall,
Black hair wind –blown,
Skin, golden in setting sun
“I pledge to unravel this mystery
Untangle the starving secret of the sea.”
Long days did Kupe search the waters,
‘Til a giant feasting octopus
Left telltale slime upon his bait,
Then wise, Kupe knew not to wait.
Speedy, he traveled across Hawaiki,
Traveled to the home of evil Muturangi,
“Is your pet octopus Te-Wheke,
Making his own delectable dish
Eating the people’s bait and fish?”
Murangi scowled and scorned Kupe.
“Te-Wheke eats without heeding
I shall not curtail voracious feeding.”
Kupe rose and stood before Muturangi
Eyes flashing in anger, hands clenched.
“I came in peace, help you not a bit
Then I, Kupe, shall kill your pet.”
Muturangi smirked and smiled,
Satisfied, he nodded and scowled
Muttered into the whistling winds,
“If he does not kill you for your sins!”

III Kupe hunts Te-Wheke

Matahorua, ocean going waka,
Did our Maori Kupe build.
Waka stocked with supplies,
Set out upon the wild waves,
Laden with family and braves.
Te-Wheke, irate, rose from the waters
His long arm lashed at the waka
The waka shuddered and swayed.
Kupe stood brave, mere in hand
He struck and hacked the writhing tentacle
Te-Wheke quivered and shook
Wounded, unable to hide in the deeps,
He writhed and wriggled over the waves.
The great chase began,
South fled Te-Wheke, ever south,
Southward followed the waka
Chased Te-Wheke across the ocean.
Always following, always alert
Dolphins playing, danced alongside
Where are you going noble Kupe?
“I follow Te-Wheke-o-Muturangi,
Chase him southward in his flight
Chase him to the death fight.”
Then rose above the ocean a cloud
Long, white over waves, a shroud,
To a new land of mountains and trees
Beaching they paused for water, food,
Spoke Kupe’s wife, Hine-te-Aparangi,
“I name this the land of Aotearoa
The land of the long white cloud.”
Still Te-Wheke thrashed in the sea
Kupe answered and alone went to face
His enemy, this feeding disgrace.
The battle ranged down the coast
Past bays and inlets
Past coves and beaches
Past islets and caves
Past seals on rocks
Te-Wheke paused between islands
Will not currents between two seas
And winds between two lands
Give him a fight advantage?
Fearless Kupe faced the monster
There in rushing waves
There in windy seas
Raged a great battle
Floundering flustering foam
Seas lashing against risen rocks
Kupe upon the octopus’ slimy head
Hacked hard and fast with his mere
So did Kupe slay Te-Wheke

IV Kupe travels Aotearoa

But Aotearoa, enchanted land
Captured Maori Kupe and his band
Lured him to explore its shores
To morph into its customs and mores.
The habitat of bat and birds,
Of Godwits and flightless Kiwi and Kea;
Of Fantails and giant land-bound Moa;
Of white heron, royal albatross, Bell-tails;
Of friendly bush robins, and Fantails.
The land of mysterious plants;
Of Kowhai tree, with flowers of gold,
Of coiling crowned tanga ferns of old
Of silver and back beeches, upland mosses
Home of insects and water beasties
Of aged black long-finned eels,
Of Sand flies and bumble bees
Of Monarch butterflies and scale insects
Place of geological wonders
Of the roaring Huka Falls
Of the split apple rock
Of glaciers and volcanos
Of boiling mud and shooting steam.
Many years did Kupe stay
‘Til destiny called and he did obey
Returned across the Pacific waters
Back to the island of Hawaiki
There to tell of Aotearoa
There to bid his own farewell
There to leave for his Hereafter
All the whanau begged him to stay
But only ‘farewell’, could noble Kupe say.

Foot Notes

Aotearoa, is the most widely known and accepted Māori name for New Zealand. The most common translation is “the land of the long white cloud”.

Hawaiki, is, in Māori mythology, their original home, before they travelled across the sea to New Zealand. It also features as the underworld in many Māori stories.

Rangatira are the hereditary Maori leaders, ideally, rangatira were people of great practical wisdom who held authority on behalf of the tribe.

Waka are Maori watercraft, usually canoes ranging in size from small, unornamented canoes used for fishing and river travel, to large decorated war or travel canoes up to 130 feet long.

Tangaroa is one of the great gods in Maori mythology and is considered by them to be the god of the sea. He is a son of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, Sky and Earth. He is the father of many sea creatures

Hinemoana, in Maori mythology is an ocean woman, and personification of the sea. She is second wife to Kiwe, a male guardian, of the sea with whom she has many children.

Whanau, pronounced fa-nau is a Māori-language word for extended family.

Hui, is a Māori word meaning a gathering of people. In modern times a gathering of New Zealand Māori people

Matahourua in Maori tradition, was the name of the canoe of the legendary hero Kupe.

Mere is a type of short, broad-bladed weapon in the shape of an enlarged tear drop. It was used to strike/jab an opponent in the body or the head; it is misleading to call it a club. It is usually made from Nephrite jade or greenstone. A mere is one of the traditional, close combat, one-handed weapons of the indigenous Māori, and a symbol of chieftainship.

Moa were nine species of flightless birds endemic to New Zealand. The two largest species, reached about12 feet in height with neck outstretched, and weighed about 510 lbs. Moa were the only wingless birds, lacking even the vestigial wings. They were the dominant herbivores in New Zealand for thousands of years. Most, if not all, species of moa died out by 1400 due to overhunting by the Māori and habitat decline.

Huka Falls are a set of waterfalls on the Waikato River that drains Lake Taupo in New Zealand. A few hundred meters upstream from the Huka Falls, the Waikato River narrows from approximately 100 meters across into a narrow canyon only 15 meters across. The volume of water flowing through often approaches 220,000 liters per second. At the top of the falls is a set of small waterfalls dropping over about 8 meters. The most impressive, final stage of the falls is an 11 meter drop. The drop is technically six meters but the water flow, five meters deep raises the level to 11meters.


© copyright, April 2014, Jane Stansfeld

Winter’s Hold



Winter seemed reluctant to release its hold.

Spring, pent up, anxious for winter to die

Urgent ever pressing, ever getting more bold,

Rends winter’s air with a pressing cry

“Babe’s in the womb anxious to unfold

Newness, birthing and growing, I do not lie

Plants in the dirt need release from your cold.

Bleak one, oh winter, you’ve grown too old.”


This poem is in response to the SpeakEasy challenge to write a piece starting with the words, “Winter seemed reluctant to release its hold” and including a reference to the above Leonardo da Vinci drawing. The challenge made me think about the strange weather which we have experienced in Austin, Texas this spring. First a late frost nipped my budding Amaryllis and then a hail storm last week sheared off the booms of those in flower. Fortunately only about 10% are early bloomers and the rest are now in their full glory. Today we are warned that another cold front is on its way but we are assured that it won’t get below 39o F.

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Father’s Love – a short story

The father was a wiry slender man who was frugal, hard-working, and asked for few comforts in life. He was a staunch South Dakota Mennonite and, during World War II, resolutely supported their belief that the fifth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill”, means exactly what it says. He could not join a war effort whose goal was to defeat an enemy though violence and the destruction of human life. He had quietly suffered for this belief. During the long war years after Pearl Harbor he never complained but accepted menial home front tasks to which he was assigned. When the war was over he took a position teaching elementary school. Over the period of a few years he managed to save up enough to purchase a car and drove to town to date his sweetheart. After they were married they took a mortgage and set up to farm a quarter (one hundred sixty acres). Their tiny homestead consisted of two rooms on the main level topped by two small attic bedrooms accessed by ship’s ladder. There was a lean to add-on kitchen. They had a two hole outside toilet and no bathroom.

Over the years their union was blessed with three sons who arrived into the world in regular three year intervals. The boys ran the farmyard in bare feet and made dens in the hay bales in the barn. The South Dakota weather kept the little family one step away from destitution as each year the winds, lack of rain, or too much rain, tested the father’s farming skills and jeopardized his crops. He was constantly worrying and scribbling sums on scraps of paper as he attempted to allocate their meager funds and keep the little family solvent and fed. His wife, a motherly sort, prayed constantly and did all she could to help make her husband’s life easier.

One day their oldest son was sent home from school for fighting. The boy was generally obedient and well behaved, but, on this occasion, he came home pouting and belligerent. He appeared hurt and angry. Both his parents attempted to get him to tell them what worried him, but he remained taciturn. How could he explain the teasing at school when it related to his own father’s role in the war before he was even born? How could he justify fighting about the very thing for which his father had so bravely suffered? He was not a violent child, but there came a moment when he had to defend his father, and so he had lashed out. His punch had been unexpected and effective, and astonished the bullying boys. They had responded with equal violence, which might have resulted in more than a few bruises had not a teacher heard the commotion, and intervened by separating the boys. She sent them all home in disgrace.

Both parents could see that their son was distressed and did their best to try to coax the boy into telling them what prompted the fight. But, he remained uncommunicative. Eventually the quiet father sat down and drew his son towards him to stand him between his knees.

“Son, what was the problem? The note which the teacher sent says that you were fighting. Son, haven’t you learned anything. You know that we don’t fight? Isn’t there something which you need to tell us, something we could pray about?” He was gentle, calm, and loving.

The boy looked into his father’s kind grey eyes, felt his father’s strong thin fingers on his waist and experienced a surge of anger. There was something to talk about but he couldn’t explain his pain. He couldn’t explain the constant teasing which was a direct result of who his father was. At that moment he blamed his father for his passivism, he blamed his father for his quiet love, and he blamed him for the bullies at school. He drew back his arm, formed a fist and punched his father’s nose. The impact made a thud and blood began to flow. The father let go of the boy’s waist and cupped his hands. He quietly held them up to his face to catch the blood. The son drew back; his eyes were wide with terror. Had he done this? Had he killed his father? He ran to his mother in the lean-to kitchen.

“Mama, Mama, come quickly Daddy is bleeding.”

She came into the room, but the father did not speak he continued to sit, immobile, quietly letting the blood drip from his nose into his cupped hands. The son urged his mother.

“Do something Mama, do something.”

But the father was gently shaking his head. His wife understood him and did nothing. The dripping continued and gradually a small reservoir of blood accumulated in the father’s cupped hands. It seemed an eternity before the bleeding stopped, and the father got up. The mother drew water and poured it into a basin. The son silently watched him wash away the blood. He hoped that the cleansing washed away his guilt. A little blood goes a long way and, in this case, the watching boy saw more than he believed possible. Some of it had browned where it had begun to dry on the edges of the father’s hands but most of it was still bright red. The father scrubbed his hands clean and wiped the blood stains off his face. Then he took the basin and tossed the reddened water onto the plants outside their kitchen door. He didn’t say a word. His watching son never forgot that image of his father’s blood flowing, drip by painful drip, into his cupped hands.

© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, April 2014