Author Archives: Nathaniel Cerf

About Nathaniel Cerf

Nathaniel Cerf is the owner of ThePenMarket.com. He has been a fountain pen junkie since the age of 9, but his addiction got out of control around 2004, when he began to learn the art of fountain pen repair.

In addition to his pen activities, Nathaniel is a professional writer with a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Montana. A former Gannett newspaper editor, he has also been published in magazines as diverse as Montana Journalism Review, Nostalgia Digest, American Fencing (that’s swords not barb wire or picket) and True Confessions. His photography has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Argus Leader and American Fencing.

The blogosphere knows Mr. Cerf from “The Hat Chronicals” at www.hats-plus.com, where he created and currently maintains a blog committed to fedoras, pork pies and the history of headwear. He also originated a movie review blog for DVDPlanet.com.

Nathaniel is currently shopping an expose novel he has written about the children’s mental health industry. (Yep, he has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, too.)

If that isn’t enough to keep him busy, he coaches and competes in fencing. He maintains a national rating in foil, but he also dabbles in epee. (That’s the weird sword crossword puzzles always use.) He also continues perfecting the formula for peanut butter and mustard sandwiches and Flaming Hot Orgasmic Tacos from Hell.

Our Latest Story in ‘Pen World’

I wrote a story featured in the February 2021 issue of Pen World Magazine. We have been given permission to reprint it here.

Check out the February 2021 issue of ‘Pen World’ Magazine! They loved our blog post about Parker’s Vice President of Foreign Sales Frank Matthay and asked us to write a more pen-centric story about Frank and Parker! Editor in Chief Nicky Pessaroff has given me permission to reprint and post the magazine cover and story here for your entertainment. It is different than the original blog post, and I hope you enjoy this new story. Also be sure to run out and subscribe “Pen World.”

 

Pen World Magazine has given us permission to reprint this story I wrote for the February 2021 issue. Click the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 2 of the story. Click the image to see a larger, more readable, version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 3. Click the image for a larger, more readable, version.

 

Decameron 2020: Four Guys Walk into a Bar

Four Guys Walk into a Bar
by Art Cerf

Sunset au Groton…Connecticut. As usual just a pretty picture to enjoy with the story.

A priest, a rabbi, a TV evangelist and an agnostic walk into a bar.

Sounds like the beginning of a great joke but in truth, it’s the beginning of a story.

The four were fast friends back in college some 35 years ago and once a year in the fall, they’d meet on campus to update each other, tell old stories, drink, play cards, curse and spit. They all agreed to get a Covid test before this year’s gathering and three of the four did so. The fourth meant to but got busy and forgot. But he was feeling great and had been nowhere near anyone with the virus.

The tele-evangelist was the last to arrive and saw his friends at a table down at Morrie’s…their agreed upon rendezvous.  After handshakes and hugs, they called the barmaid over. The  evangelist– a millionaire many times over–ordered the most expensive bourdon in the house and a double at that.  The priest ordered a white wine. The rabbi–a recovering alcoholic–stayed with a diet Coke and the agnostic had a beer.

After much laughter, a second round was ordered and after those drinks were finished, the TV preacher dropped a hundred dollar bill on the table and told the waitress to keep the change.

They then walked over to the best hotel in town where the evangelist had booked a suite big enough for the four of them. The agnostic said even if they split the cost four ways, he couldn’t afford it. The rabbi and the priest agreed but the preacher waved them off and said he’d pick up the tab and write it off on his taxes.

They went upstairs and soon were playing the game of Hell at ten cents a point like they had 35 years earlier, youthening as they played.

Hours later, everyone was hungry so the preacher called down to room service. He ordered a large Porterhouse steak for himself. The priest just wanted a bowl of soup. The rabbi said he’d have a Rueben and the agnostic said that sounded good to him and added a side of cole slaw. Then the TV preacher added a bottle of champagne.

The young waiter wheeled in the feast and the preacher opened the champagne with a pop and poured for everyone, including the young waiter. He thanked the group but said he wasn’t allowed to drink on the job. The minister said rubbish, tucked a $50 in his pocket and said, “Drink up.”

The young man removed his mask, took two sips, thanked everyone and left.

The weekend was fun for all and as they left their separate ways, the preacher thought though he loved them all, he was surprised on how depressingly ordinary their lives were.

The priest admitted to himself that he was jealous of the TV star for each week, he preached to millions while the priest drew 200 to Sunday services on a good day.

The rabbi just looked back on the weekend as a wonderful break from his real life.

The agnostic loved them all but thought the preacher was in for a big fall…making millions for his church, buying his own plane, a mansion, a Rolls and who knows what else, writing it all off as church expenses.

About a week later, one of the four got sick, really sick with Covid. A day later, two more of the group got ill and two days after that, the fourth was in the hospital. Two would die. The other two would face a lengthy recovery.

Contact tracers looked at all four and who they had contact with while on campus. They traced it to the young waiter who had shared a glass of champagne with them. He was doing fine.

A New Dream for MLK Day: Reuniting America

We need more serenity in our lives. Enjoy this sunset over the Thames River in Connecticut.

Teetering on the brink of a new civil war, perhaps it is time to use the Dr. Martin Luther King jr. holiday to reflect on fulfilling his dream in a whole new way.

In his quest for equality, fairness and justice for all, Dr. King advocated for peace at every juncture of policy and protest.

I fix, restore and sell fountain pens for a living. I write stories to entertain people. I’m no politician. I intentionally avoid politics at all cost with regard to my business and this blog. BUT, I am heartbroken to see the nation I love falling apart. It is terrifying to see our capitol under siege. It is alien to have anything less than a peaceful transfer of power in Washington D.C. It is awful watching people whom I call friends so politically divided and letting their politics spoil their friendships.

As a guy who loves vintage pens, it should come as no surprise that I love reading about history. Among other projects, I’m working on a book about the original American Civil War. Plus, with a master’s degree in journalism, I have a fairly strong understanding about the machinations of modern media.

There is one common factor that I have observed in recent years that conservatives and liberals can agree on: the media is biased. How many times have you heard conservatives blame the liberal media…or liberals blame the conservative media? How many of our friends who are 50+ bemoan the fact we no longer have an Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite that every American can trust to tell us the facts and only the facts in a news broadcast?

Why do we have so much media bias in our current time?

In 1949, the United States enacted a law known as “The Fairness Doctrine.” After having watched the rise of fascism in Europe and communism in Russia, American lawmakers wisely foresaw the new invention of television (and the older medium of radio) being used in horrible ways to subvert our democracy. As such, they enacted “The Fairness Doctrine.” Under this law, nobody who owned a broadcast license could promote one political ideology or party over another. If a channel or network wanted to feature a certain political opinion, it had to balance it out with the opposing view to give viewers a fair opportunity to consider both points of view and come up with their own opinions. Any channel or network that violated that balance would be punished by the Federal Communications Commission, which was nonpartisan and watched networks closely—enforcing the policy with vigor.

The policy remained in force until it was eliminated by Congress in 1987. Not surprisingly, we saw a sharp spike in opinion-based and biased broadcasting in the 1990s through today.

I propose that if we really want to heal our nation, then liberals and conservatives must come together to demand their lawmakers reinstate “The Fairness Doctrine.” No more liberal media. No more conservative media. No more lopsided political coverage. No more ideological brainwashing. News shows go back to broadcasting facts and only facts.

News shows might become more boring, but after watching violent insurrection on our streets, maybe boring would be a good change of pace on TV. 

This week marks the start of a new presidency and the start of a new cast of senators and representatives. Call or write your representatives and president this week and demand the restoration of “The Fairness Doctrine.” It won’t solve all of our nation’s problems, but it will go a long way to help lower the national temperature and restore bias-free broadcasting to our airwaves.

Decameron 2020: The Price of Guilt

The Price of Guilt
By Art Cerf

Here’s the first snowfall of the year in Connecticut. It has nothing to do with the story. We just think it is beautiful and as good a way to illustrate this story as any.

Mike and Jill had been married for almost two years and still behaved like newlyweds. They treasured each other.

One morning Jill woke up with a headache and a slight fever. She said it’s just a cold and went on with her day. But the headache got worse and her fever climbed so Mike rushed her to the hospital. It was the last time he would see her for four weeks.

He checked about every four hours with the hospital staff but she was showing no improvement. In fact, three days in the doctors said they had to put a tube down her throat because her oxygen levels had dipped so.

Mike was worried sick. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t read or watch TV. About all he could do was go outside and walk…and walk…and walk.

One day, he ran into Maggie, one of Jill’s acquaintances and she asked for Jill and he told her how she was now hospitalized with Covid. She looked at him…gaunt in appearance, he hadn’t shaved in days nor eaten much.

She said let’s go back to your place and I’d cook you up something. He followed her and she rummaged through the fridge and came up with bacon and eggs.

She told him to go upstairs, shower, shave and change his clothes. When he returned, he suddenly realized he was ravenous and quickly ate every bite.

After the meal, he asked her if she’d like a beer.

“No, but if you have any gin, I’d take a martini.”

So they both had martinis and talked. And then a second martini and then a third.

The next thing he knew, he was getting out of bed to pee while nursing a terrible hangover.

As he returned, he saw a sleeping Maggie, one bare breast peeking out from beneath the sheets.

He tried to dress quietly but she awoke smiling, saying, “Good morning, lover.”

Mike turned scarlet and stammered, “We shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have…”

She stopped him, saying not to worry, it was a one-time thing and she had no desire to break up his marriage, adding, “As for me, I really enjoyed myself and apparently, you did too…twice!”

Maggie then said she’d take a quick shower and be on her way.

Those were the longest 25 minutes in Mike’s life until she went out the door.

Then he worried, “What if the neighbors saw? What if she had a social disease or, God forbid, Aids?”

And then he realized he had used no protection…what if she’s pregnant?

Just then the phone rang and it was the hospital. A doctor told him Jill had been taken off the ventilator and was doing much better and though still very weak, could go home in two or three days.

Mike ran upstairs, stripped the bed and washed the sheets…twice. He then scrubbed out the tub to make sure none of Maggie’s long, chestnut hair was stuck in the drain or anywhere else.  Then he cleaned up the kitchen, washing pots and dishes, again trying to erase any sign of Maggie’s presence.

Three days later, Jill came home and went straight up to the bedroom to lie down.

Then the phone rang and it was Maggie.

“Mike,” she said, “I had a Covid test at work after our night, and I’ve tested positive but asymptotic. However, they warn that I may have past the virus to anyone I’d seen or spent time with.”

Holiday Shipping 2020

The holiday postal rush is on! Our primary postal service remains the United States Postal Service. You still have plenty of time to order inside the United States for delivery by Christmas…and the end of Hanukkah. Overseas customers must ship by FedEx if they have any hope of their order arriving by Christmas.

These are the Post Office’s guidelines for timely shipping for Christmas, but we’re recommending that you give yourself more time as Covid-19 delays have occurred since this notice was printed.

Inside the United States, we are seeing weeklong delays for uninsured first class shipping. Upon contacting the USPS, they blame Covid-19, which makes sense given how out of control it is in the U.S. With that said, take the postal service’s posted shipping guidelines with a grain of salt.

The Post Office says:

Mail First Class by DEC. 18 for delivery in time for Christmas

Mail Priority Mail by DEC. 19 for delivery in time for Christmas

We say you’d  be safer to mail first class packages at least a week earlier than that. With hope and luck, if you mail a package DEC. 12 via first class mail it will arrive in time for Christmas. We can’t guarantee that, as we have no control over the post office, but we hope it is a useful rule of thumb.

Happy Hanukkah! Super Solstice! Merry Christmas! Have a great Kwanzaa! And enjoy any other holidays I left out.

A Very Parker Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in Groton, Conn.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been this chaotic and stressful for everyone in America since at least World War II…possibly since the 1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic. There’s the Covid-19 pandemic, political turmoil, recession, open-rampant-growing racism, civil unrest and climate disaster for many recovering from wildfires and hurricanes.

It feels more important than ever to take a day to recognize all of the things we are grateful for in our lives. Me, I’m thankful for my fiancé, her mother and I all being healthy and well together in our new home. I’m thankful my parents, sister and her family are healthy and safe. And I’m thankful for all of my friends, whether we know each other from before ThePenMarket.com or because of it.

So many customers became friends who beautifully color my life. In Chicago, I have a Civil-War studying, vintage-camera-loving buddy with fantastic wit and a social-working, philosophizing friend who convinced me to not give up on my novel. There’s the salsa-dancing police detective who specializes in tracking down child abusers in Arizona. A Heinlein-loving pen collector in Virginia. A virologist who is working on the Covid-19 vaccine. A certain retired urologist in Connecticut. A retired sailor in Virginia Beach. A school teacher in Germany. A Waterman-loving Oklahoman. The nursing home nurse in Texas. Several great paramedics in Washington and Colorado. I have a 3-fingered brother from another mother down in Texas, as well as a wonderful roommate and travel buddy who loves cars as much as pens. I’d have never guessed I’d have as many additional new and wonderful friends from the Deep South as I do. I am a Yankee city boy, after all. And, of course, there are many, many other pen friends whom I delight in getting to know through the site. 

The newest friend I think you’ll enjoy meeting is Camy Matthay. Camy reached out to me after reading my series of stories about the pens that ended World War II. Most of those pens were Parker pens, and she is reconnecting with her late father by doing the deepest dive into Parker pens I’ve seen in years.

Frank Matthay in his passport issued 1959. Matthay was the leader of Parker exports from 1928 through 1966.

Who was her father? No. Not George or Kenneth Parker. Her father was the unassuming sounding Frank Matthay…the man responsible for making Parker a global brand!

Her story is equally captivating as her father’s. Camy came along late in Frank’s life. And, unfortunately, he died of early-onset Alzheimer’s in the mid-1970s when she was a teen. His memories were robbed of him by the disease, just as she was coming of age and really interested in getting to know her father as a person more than just Dad. Life moves quickly in one’s teens and twenties, and a little later in adulthood Camy decided to reconnect with her late father when she uncovered a treasure trove of boxes filled with his papers, passports, photos and other personal effects.

Frank, as it turns out, lived the adventure of a lifetime. Not only did he live well at a time when most of the world lived in crushing poverty, he saw the world before it lost much of its mystery. He met presidents and Nazis—generals and actual Amazonian headhunters. He helped give birth to the Parker Vacumatic, 51, 61 and 75!

Thankfully, Camy has shared her discoveries with me and is happy to share them with you, too. The following is my summary of her father’s biography with her full approval.

Frank Matthay (far left) with George Parker (white haired guy, founder of Parker Pens) circa 1929.

Frank Matthay was born May 10, 1904, in Beyenberg, Germany. Too young to fight in World War I, he was a talented student in what now would be considered a college-prep high school. Here he specialized in studying the classics, including the languages Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and his native German. Along the line, he also picked up English.

At the tender age of 19, he immigrated to the United States in 1923. He was sponsored by his uncle. Germany, at the time, was struggling desperately with the national economic collapse of post-WWI reparations and more. He moved to Chicago, where he was supposed to work in his uncle’s grocery store. However, it seems he never worked for his uncle, taking a job initially as a soda jerk and taking night classes at a YMCA. 

It is unclear when and where he mastered English, as well as Spanish, Portuguese and some Mandarin Chinese. Yet, his early training in the German school system likely made it very easy for him to learn any other language put in front of him.

Also unclear is how he joined the Parker Pen Company in January 1928, at the age of 23. His mastery of languages was what got him a job in the export department, and he was soon working closely with George and Kenneth Parker.

By all accounts, Frank was the life of any party with a natural gift of gab and always armed with a joke and amusing stories. He was tall and lean with a broad, easy smile and a glimmer of mirth in his eyes, plus he had a meticulously Teutonic attention to detail. All important traits for setting up a global distribution and sales network in Central America, South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa!

After a year with the company, Frank was sent on his first assignment to Cuba on the two-year-old airline known as PanAmerican. His career would actually parallel the rise of PanAm. He rode on every glamorous (and not-so-glamorous) float plane they had including the very early Sikorsky S-38, Consolidated Commodore and the extremely lux Sikorsky S-40 “Caribbean Clipper,” which was the first of PanAm’s famous “Clipper” airliners.

Frank took this photo of a Sikorsky 38 float plane taxiing to the dock.

On the success of his Cuba trip, in 1930 he was sent to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, France, Mexico and Cuba, once again. During his trip to Europe on the SS Bremen, he witnessed one of the first, if not the first, aircraft launched from a ship at sea. It was a mail plane launched from a catapult to speed the delivery of the mail the ship was carrying. In 1931, he spent 6 months “on the road” building Parker’s network in Australia and Southeast Asia!

Herbert Hoover’s motorcade drives through Port au Prince, Haiti.

An avid photographer, Frank took pictures of all of his travels. He has images of President Herbert Hoover’s 2-car motorcade in Port au Prince, Haiti. He loved exploring volcanos. On one of his trips to Peru or Ecuador he met and photographed a tribe of headhunters. He even bought a shrunken head from them for $25 (about $330 in our current money). The images look as if they could have been in National Geographic.

Frank took this photo of a tribe of headhunters in Peru or Ecuador. He bought a shrunken head from them for $25.

If you remember my stories about Kenneth Parker befriending Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in the Philippines, Frank was with them!

Fans of the Parker 51 will love knowing that Frank was the architect of the 1939 and ’40 release of the preliminary Parker 51s in South America and the Caribbean! His itinerary in 1939 was packed with extended trips south of the border. His itinerary on PanAmerican Airlines alone cost nearly $27,000 in today’s money. That doesn’t count his hotels, meals, etc. Yet, it also laid the ground work for the sale of tens of millions of Parker 51s both abroad and at home.

Here is Frank’s copy of the PanAm route map from 1931. Odds are really good that he flew every leg of that route.

Financially speaking, Frank was very well paid for his efforts. At the end of the Great Depression in 1939, he was making $5,000 a year. That is just shy of $100,000 a year in today’s money. And that doesn’t count for his luxury travel and adventures paid for by the company. According to records from Janesville that Camy found, he was making more than local doctors. Parker’s famous nib grinders of 1939 made $2,400 a year. A typist at Parker would make $1,000 a year. (Other cool details she uncovered.)

Frank’s passports are works of art, colorfully illustrated with visas to scores of nations. More impressive than the stamps of many colors are the notes from customs officials. Chilling are the notes by Nazis and Italian fascists telling him where he can and cannot go. It also seemed to him at times that the Nazis had him under surveillance. As a former German citizen who became a naturalized American, he was suspicious to them.

As it turns out, they had good reasons to suspect him. He was very anti-fascism. After the outbreak of World War II, he worked with friends and family in Belgium to funnel money to the resistance fighting Nazi-occupation.

His post-war years were just as busy, as he rebuilt Parker’s global networks from the rubble of Europe’s and much of Asia’s destruction.

Check out the stamps from China to Nazi Germany on this heavily inked page from his 1937 passport.

Unfortunately, a life of travel and corporate empire building was rough at home. His first marriage, in which he had 3 children, ended in divorce. Later in life he remarried and had three more children, including Camy. Yet, that was difficult, too. He traveled around the world so much, a very, very young Camy thought he was one of America’s first astronauts for a little while.

In 1960, Parker opened a sales office in Paris, and Frank and his family were moved there to run the office until 1962.

By the mid-1960s, Frank’s memory started to fail. Very little was known about neurological diseases such as Alzheimers back then, and doctors actually thought his medical problems stemmed from diseases he might have picked up on his travels or from eating exotic native foods, such as, apparently, a still beating snake heart in Vietnam.

Frank retired as a vice president at Parker in 1966, after 38 years of dedicated service. He continued his hobby of collecting stamps and learning Russian and Sandskrit until his Alzheimers made it impossible. He passed away in 1974.

Frank is on the far right posing with the famed Parker 51 airplane. Among his many other hobbies, Frank was a licensed pilot, though I do not know if he flew the “51.”

Honestly, there are so many more adventures in Frank’s life, but I just couldn’t fit them all into this post without simply writing a book. I am so thankful for Camy’s reaching out to me and sharing her stories and research. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about Parker’s international growth and its star salesman and leader.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season. No matter how bad this pandemic gets, remember we are going to get through it. A vaccine is on its way. And one day, this pandemic will be nothing more than a bad memory. Thank you for visiting and supporting ThePenMarket.com. We can’t do it without you, and we are so grateful for you. Stay strong and keep writing.

Lamy Crystal Inks Undergo Light-Fast Testing

With four moves in 2 years and a ton of other life changes, we were slow to test the new Lamy Crystal fountain pen inks to see how they would handle ultraviolet light and aging on paper. Luckily, we were able to start our three-month test this July. We actually let the test run about 3 and a half months.

To run our test, we used two sheets of Rhodia paper. Each of the 10 inks was first written on to the margin with a wet-writing glass dip nib. Then a swatch was drawn with a Q-tip with the intention of having a thick patch of ink and a thinned out portion so we could see the effects of UV light. One of the sheets was saved in a cool, dark, dry place. The other sheet  was posted in the sunniest window of our office. The inks tested were called: Obsidian, Azurite, Ruby, Topaz, Amazonite, Beryl, Benitoite, Agate, Peridot and Rhodonite.

For nearly 3 and a half months, we tested the left sheet of paper with 10 Lamy Crystal inks in the direct sunlight to see how much they would or wouldn’t fade.

Here are the results. If you click the photo, you will see a larger version of the photo. It is surprising how much some of the inks change and others do not change.

To the relief of many, the Lamy Crystal Obsidian black ink holds fast. It only fades a little, unlike a suprising number of black inks. Yet, the purplish blue “Azurite” fades heavily to a reddish color that looks like if you dipped your finger in merlot and wiped it on a piece of paper.

Ruby and Topaz both held their red and sepia-brown colors very well during their time in the sun.

Peridot landed right in the middle. If the green was laid down thickly, it held. If it was thin, it faded.

Benitoite might also have a middle grade for its time in the sun. It was the only color that got darker! Benitoite is a blue-black. It lost most of its blue in the transition, but its black got stronger.

Amazonite is an odd color change. To me, it is one of the two most beautiful colors when laid down fresh. It is a very vibrant green-blue. And when set thickly on the page, it remains dark after time in the sun. Yet, the odd part is that the green gets lost in the sun and a faded blue remains. Normally, blue is the color we’ve seen disappear.

Beryl is my other favorite color when fresh. It is a lovely purply pink. Yet, after 3 months of sunlight, it completely changed to a very faded red. Even the thick/dark parts of the ink faded to a red, which itself is a faded color though remained darker.

The two colors that faded the most were Agate and Rhodonite. Rhodonite starts a beautiful reddish-pink and faded to a barely visible pink. The Agate was a light grey that actually turned light brown also fading to nearly invisible.

Hopefully, this information helps you with your ink obsession. Happy writing!

Decameron 2020: The Hit Business

The Hit Business
By Art Cerf

Here’s a tufted titmouse on my roof. It has nothing to do with this story, but I love these little songbirds.

Elliot Myers was a second-rate song writer and a third-rate musician.

On the dark side of 30, he lived in his mother’s basement and had no job other than the occasional gig with his band, the Misfits, (No, not those Misfits…he only wished…and was about 40 years too late.) playing at high school dances and old people’s homes. Seldom were they ever offered a return gig.

Elliot wrote voraciously…songs like “Cat, Man Do!,” “The Red Light that Stopped My Heart,” and his favorite, “I Married a Giant Squid” which started, “I’m as happy as can be when she wraps her arms around me.”

Not surprisingly, no record labels were interested. No one bought his home-recorded music over the internet. And the only thing streaming was his tears.

One night in despair, he penned “Dancin’ with the Covid Blues.”  He posted it online for free. It was truly terrible and tasteless…and people started to listen to it. Lots of people. So many people that a  record company offered to buy it and give him a percentage of the profits. That’s when it really took off.

Soon it was on the Billboard 100. Then in the Top Ten…and finally, number one for 12 weeks!

Elliot was on fire. His other creations were recorded, and while they weren’t quite as awful at the Covid hit, they fattened his bank account even more.

Soon he became a TV celebrity, dated women way out of his league and even got a cover on “The Rolling Stone.”

(Now I know how you readers are looking ahead, predicting he’ll get Covid and die. You are wrong. Instead he was crossing the street with his headphones on, listening to his favorite tunes and while not paying attention, was hit by a bus!)

Decameron 2020: Where did Janey Go?

There are so many beautiful scenes to photograph in Connecticut in the fall…especially a stone wall leading to oblivion.

“Wheee!,” cheered Jane, clapping her hands for encouragement. “Look at that little girl run.”

Vick looked up from the papers he was grading and smiled at his mother-in-law. “She’s adorable.”

There was nobody else in the living room.

Since before they moved into this fully restored, 3-story Queen Anne home in New Haven, Jane had been seeing people who just weren’t there.

Jane had early onset Alzheimer’s and was nearing the end of the line. This little girl she had been seeing since they moved into the house likely was a series of happy memories about Vick’s wife when she was a little girl.

Jane was happy and comfortable, and that was all that mattered to Vick.

Getting this tenured professorship at an Ivy League school was a dream come true for Vick. His wife Sue was an architect who was in high demand, and she could usually work from home, traveling when she needed to. She was 100% supportive of this move, and they both agreed their newly renovated home was the best home in which either had ever lived.

They took great care with the interior design. Each room was unique, creating its own ambiance. The living room was tastefully elegant in a rich 1890s Victorian motif to restore the home to some of its original state. Dark woods, red cushions and wall coverings. House plants helped fill the room with life. Ferns and vines threatened to overtake the windows and furniture. The walls had paintings or bookshelves tastefully arranged. It was Vick’s favorite room.

Sue came in and asked, “You didn’t happen to take a bath and forget to empty the tub, did you? There are watery footprints all over the floor.”

Vick gave a subtle head shake no, and they both looked to Jane, who was bare-footed, and playing patty cake by herself and giggling.

Sue sighed, “I’ll go drain the tub and clean up the floor.”

“That’s alright. I can do it,” Vick offered.

“No, you’re busy. I got it.”

Keeping tabs on Jane was easily a 2-person job. Jane always meant well, but she had virtually no short-term memory. Frequently, she’d wander off and do household chores or yard work. It sounded great on the surface…until they discovered she never used dish soap and stacked wet, dirty dishes in the cabinets, without any regard for the contents of the cabinets and drawers in which she placed them. The pantry was forever being reorganized.

It was easier when their kids were home, but their two girls were off at college. For now, Vick and Sue tag-teamed watching Jane or cleaning up after her. The hardest part was that Jane preferred to be busy. You couldn’t just plunk her in front of a T.V. Jane preferred mowing, raking or pruning to watching T.V. Yet, to set her loose on her own would be trouble. When they gave her a trowel to weed the garden and left her alone, she forgot to weed and dug a 4-foot deep hole instead.

Neither Vick nor Sue blamed Jane. It was the disease.

During the week, a caretaker came to look after Jane. On the weekends, it was just Vick and Sue. They didn’t mind. They had set some boundaries for defining the moment they would need to find a nursing home, but they enjoyed Jane’s company and knew how much she’d hate a nursing home in her present state of mind.

They were content to give Jane as many good years, months or days as they could in their happy home.

•••

Imagine being buried in red and orange leaves.

The advantage to having kids off at college was sleeping in on Sundays and rediscovering each other.

Sue and Vick were as flirty as teenagers while making pancakes and bacon in the kitchen. Vick was nibbling Sue’s ear when Jane rushed in, out of breath and wearing nothing but a bathrobe.

“Have you seen that little girl?” she asked. “I tried to chase her, but she’s faster than me.”

“No,” Sue said, putting down the mixing bowl full of batter that she was stirring. “You want some breakfast? I’ve got some strawberries and whip cream for your pancakes. I know you like that.”

Jane looked confused. “Not right now. I really need to find that little girl.”

Jane left the kitchen on her quest, and Sue sighed and shrugged. “I guess playtime is over, now that she’s up.”

Vick gave her a kiss. “To be continued.”

She gave him her naughtiest smile, then Jane came running back into the kitchen.

Jane was pale and trembling. Panic was in her eyes.

“There’s a man in the house,” she said.

“What?” Vick asked. “Where?”

“I don’t like him,” Jane’s voice was a tremor. “Make him go away.”

“It’s okay,” Sue soothed, as she embraced her mother.

“What did he look like? Where is he?” Vick questioned, grabbing a long, sharp kitchen knife.

Vick was a pudgy college professor, not a knife fighter, but he figured something was better than nothing.

Jane was at a loss for words  and just pointed out the kitchen entrance she came in.

“Be careful,” Sue cautioned.

Searching the first floor, Vick saw no trace of anybody. No broken windows. No disturbed furniture. No stolen items.

He was surprised to find the front door unlocked. Opening the front door, a package was waiting for his wife on the porch.

Snorting a small laugh, he put together the pieces of the puzzle.

He took the package back to Sue and asked Jane, “Did you see the delivery man? Is that who scared you?”

“What man?” Jane asked, confused.

Sue exhaled in relief.

“I’ll check the rest of the house,” Vick said. “But, I think we found our culprit.”

“Thanks,” Sue agreed, as she took the package.

Nothing was amiss as Vick explored from low to high. The only thing out of place was that the 2nd floor bath tub was full, again. Muttering to himself, Vick drained the tub and sopped up the mess on the floor with a towel.

•••

Not sure there is anything more beautiful than maple leaves at peak color.

Raking the last of the front yard leaves into a huge three-foot pile, Sue and Jane were dressed in gloves and heavy sweaters.

It was a crisp, late-October day.

“Watch that little girl play in the leaves,” Jane said, resting on her rake.

“I don’t know about any little girl,” Sue smiled mischievously. “I think you want to play in the leaves.”

“Noooo,” Jane protested. “I’m too old. What will the neighbors say?”

“They’ll say, ‘Look at the old lady having fun. Maybe she’ll let me play, too.’ Go on. Have fun.”

Jane jumped into the leaves with reckless abandon. Sue picked up a pile of leaves and dropped them on her. Then she fell into the leaves next to her mother.

They both laughed like they did when Sue was a little girl.

When they tired of laughing and throwing leaves at one another, they lay quietly staring at the cold, grey sky through the nearly naked branches of an old oak tree.

“I don’t think I’ve got another winter left in me, Sue.”

Sue was shocked by the sudden return of dementia-free clarity.

“Of course you do, Mom. You’re a skiier.”

“Not any more.” Jane was silent a moment before continuing. “I really want to thank you and Vick for how well you are taking care of me, but I want you to know that it is okay…whatever it is you need to do to take care of me.”

Tears welled in Sue’s eyes, as she took in the full permission of what her mother was granting her.

“I love you, Susie.”

“I love you, too, Mama,” Sue said, hugging her tightly and crying. “I miss you so much.”

They cried and hugged some more, and before either of them was ready, the dementia returned.

“Why are you crying?” Jane innocently asked, oblivious to her own cheeks wet with tears.

Sue tried hard to compose herself quickly. “Nothing. Nothing, Mama. How about some hot cocoa?”

“Only if my little friend here can have a cup, too,” she said, climbing out of the leaves and on to her feet.

“Of course,” she agreed, absently wiping her nose on her sleeve.

•••

Later  that night, just down the hall from her loving daughter and son-in-law, comfy and warm in her bed, Jane passed away peacefully.

On October 30th, a small grave-side service was held for Jane. Her granddaughters came in from their respective colleges. Nobody in New Haven knew Jane, but a couple of Sue and Vick’s colleagues came to offer their support. The girls were upset. Sue and Vick had far more complex feelings. They were sorrowful for Jane’s passing. She died too young from a disease that deprived her of her memories and personality. Yet, being her constant caretakers had taken a toll on them, too, and they felt guilty for feeling some relief.

At midnight Vick was awakened by a small hand gently patting his shoulder. He groggily thought it was one of his daughters, momentarily forgetting they were now grown women.

Through his bleary eyes he saw a 9-year-old girl patiently standing next to his bed. She had curly hair like Shirley Temple and was wearing a 1940s’ dungaree jumper.

Coming to his senses, he gasped and sat up in bed—scooting backward until his back was against the headboard.

“Who are you?”

Sensing his fear, the little girl took a step backward and asked,  “Where did Janey go? I haven’t seen her for a couple of days.”

Sue started to stir next to him.

“What?” Vick asked. “How did you get in here?”

The girl smiled like he was being silly.

“You know me,” she explained. “I’m Janey’s friend. You called me adorable once when we were playing in the drawing room.”

Sue was coming to her senses and trying to understand what a little girl was doing in their bedroom.

Vick tried to explain gently to someone whom he wasn’t sure existed, “Umm. Jane died several days ago.”

She looked at him quizzically, as if she didn’t quite understand.

Then a soft familiar voice playfully called from down the hall.

“Evvvvelynnnn. Come out, come out wherever you are.”

“Mama?” Sue whispered, confused.

“Oh! There she is,” said the little girl, perking up. Then her eyes widened and fear shown on her face. “I forgot to warn her about the man with the bloody arms in the bathtub!”

The girl faded away as she looked like she was going to run out of the room.

Seconds later Jane screamed from the middle of the hallway.

“Mama!” Sue shouted, as she and Vick ran down the hall to the bathroom. Moments later they were joined by their daughters.

They stood silently watching the lit bathroom. Nobody else was in the hall or bathroom, but the tub was full and wet footprints led to the hallway and vanished.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Decameron 2020: The Pickerel Witch

Here’s a Fowler’s toad lurking in the grass…or is it? Enjoy our modern fairytale.

Ilke and Streusel were walking through Germany’s dark, primeval Black Forest. They had been lost and wandering for days.

“Ilke,” her little brother called. “I’m hungry. Why did our evil step-mother send us on this horrible quest to find dingleberries in the forest?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “But even if we find this dingleberry bush, I do not think we can find our way back to our loving-but-easily-duped father and have a dingleberry pie.”

They trudged on, weak and trembling.

“Remember our friends, Hansel and Gretel?” Streusel asked.

“Of course.”

“Well, just last week I heard that they found a cabin made of candy,” he said. “Maybe it is still here somewhere close to us.”

“I hope not,” Ilke shivered. “I heard they met a witch who tried to eat them.”

“Yeah, but they pushed her into an oven and killed her. That means there should be plenty of fresh candy waiting for us.”

“I think we’d be better off avoiding witches.”

Eventually they came to a swampy clearing. They rested their weary little bottoms on a log.

“I’m so hungry,” Streusel exclaimed. “I could eat a frog.”

Here’s a real Pickerel frog?

Just like that a splotchy, warty Pickerel frog hopped up between them on the log.

With the last of his strength, Streusel caught the frog and held it gently in his hands as he contemplated eating it raw.

“Don’t hurt it,” Ilke commanded. “It never did anything to you. You have no right to take its life.”

Streusel cried with guilt for ever thinking of killing a living creature, and he cried because he was hungry. He carefully set the plump little amphibian down.

It looked at him and ribbeted, “Thanks.” Next there was a flash and poof.

The children screamed as a beautiful woman with thick, shoulder-length blonde hair appeared wearing a long, black dress, black hobnail boots and a wide-brimmed black pointy hat.

She produced a compact from her black-satin dress and powdered her nose. Then she gave a toss of her golden locks, just for effect before closing her compact.

“Hi there,” she greeted the children. “My name is Madison, but you can call me Maddie.”

The children looked at her and trembled in terror.

“Oh, you little lambs must be starving,” she said and handed each child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off, just they way they liked.

“Our step-mother says never to take food from strangers,” Ilke declared.

In a sweet and sardonic voice, Maddie asked, “The same step-mother who intentionally left you in the forest to die so she could have lots of sex with your dim-witted father and raise her spawn in your place?”

“Ohhhh,” the kids sighed, thought about it and devoured their sandwiches.

Feeling better, Streusel asked, “Are you going to eat us now?”

Madison laughed with impish delight.

“No, Sweetie. That was Hildegarde, who Hansel and Gretel did in so nicely. She was old skool. Very conservative and traditional,” Maddie explained. “I’m with the more progressive Witchs’ Welfare League. We love good little girls and boys and think it is unfair to prey on them when they are already such easy and undeserving targets.”

The siblings nodded appreciatively.

“So what are you going to do with us?” Ilke asked apprehensively.

“Nothing, dear child,” Madison said. “The real question is, ‘What are you going to do to help me?’”

“What do you mean?” Ilke asked.

Madison pinched Ilke’s ribs and said, “Well, it feels to me as if you haven’t had any meat in ages.”

“No, we haven’t,” Streusel told her.

“How about you guys help me chop up your step-mother and eat her for dinner, and then you can live happily ever after with your loving father.”

“Yay!” cheered the kids, as they clasped Maddie’s hands, hopped off the log and skipped all the way back home to cannibalize their most-deserving, wicked step-mother.

T
H
END