Interview with the author

When did you first start writing?
I began at age 10, inspired by a movie I saw, “Gentleman’s Agreement,” starring Gregory Peck as a magazine writer working on a story that explored society’s hidden anti-semitism.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The sense of self-discovery and the gratification of story-telling.
What do your fans mean to you?
Every story-teller needs a story-listener. Together they complete a circuit that I consider magical.
What are you working on next?
I have just begun a story set in Pawleys Island, SC. I can’t wait to see what it is about!
Who are your favorite authors?
I have many favorites: Novelists Thomas Hardy, Somerset Maugham, Jane Austen, Dickens, Camus, Margaret Mitchell, Erskine Caldwell, Willa Cather, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, and poets Shakespeare, Browning, Wordsworth, Blake, and T.S. Eliot. I also like my own writing. So there.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My dogs are eager for their morning walk. ‘Nuff said.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I scour book sites today just as I used to scour bookstores and magazine stands.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Among the first was a short-short story written in about half an hour in a freshman English class at the University of Georgia. Each Friday, we had to write a paper in class (50 minutes) based on one of several themes the professor wrote on the board.
After some  minutes of indecision, I chose “Good Ol’ Friday, King of the Week” and wrote about the Crucifixion of Christ from the point of view of some Roman soldiers whose duty it had been to carry out the execution. Mine was the only paper that was fiction, and it was probably the first such theme paper she had ever received. She loved it, pronouncing it the best theme paper she’d ever had. Alas, she handed back the paper with a grade of 40 (out of a 100) and said, “See me after class.” After class, she repeated her praise of the story but informed me (correctly) that I did not know grammar — and would fail her class in spite of my writing talent if I did not learn it. I got busy and learned it, and made a B+ on the final. What a good teacher she was! Renamed “TGIF,” the story I wrote then appears in my book Six of One, Half Dozen of Another, a collection of short stories and poems.
What is your writing process?
I write about four hours every day when the going is good. I begin each session by rereading (and editing) what I wrote the day before. I aim for producing 1,000 words a day, and I count the words at the end of each session and record them on a calendar-like grid, putting the day’s production above a line and the running total under the line. This ritual is tantamount to giving myself a gold star at the end of each day’s work.
Do you remember the first story you ever read and the impact it had on you?
No. The first stories I ever heard were at my mother’s knee, long before I could read. But I believe they helped me develop a facility with language.
How do you approach cover design?
When I’ve done my own, sweating blood seemed to work well.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Georgia. Southerners seem to be born with a story-telling gene.
What’s the story behind your latest book?

It’s about the redemptive power of music, specifically (in this case) rock ‘n’ roll. A rich white boy and a black handyman form a lasting friendship when the boy is exposed to the handyman’s collection of rock ‘n’ roll records.

What motivated you to become an indie author?
After my second novel, Atlanta Blues, I couldn’t find a publisher. At that time, book publishing was changing drastically; I seemed caught in the upheaval.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
It helps writers like me distribute their work to readers.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, walking my dog, listening to music, nurturing my children, helping my wife, helping aspiring writers, especially my former students.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
-To me, Gone With the Wind is the great American novel, and not because I’m a Southerner or Confederate sympathizer. It’s simply a wonderful novel.
-All the Thomas Hardy novels except Jude the Obscure number among my favorite, but I’ll single out Far From the Madding Crowd.
-All of Jane Austen’s novels, but, with apologies to Sense and Sensibility, I’ll pick Pride and Prejudice.
The Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maugham. Great storytelling.
-My own A Majority of One. It’s really that good. Surprised myself!
What do you read for pleasure?
I’m an inveterate reader. If nothing else is handy, a cereal box will do.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
IPad.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I haven’t found any.
Describe your desk.
I write on my laptop at the dining-room table, which at the moment is a mess.
What is your advice to young writers?
Learn your craft. As Stephen King said, the English language is your toolbox; know your tools. Then, bearing in mind that the first two letters of d-o-n-e spell do, apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, and write!
(Editor’s Note: This interview is from Smashwords: https://www.Smashwords.com/profile/view/robtlamb)

Forewarned is forearmed, sort of

Have you noticed the long string of warnings in TV commercials for prescription drugs?

How could you miss it? It’s downright scary. Takes up half of the evening news. The drug companies know their audience, don’t they? Only geezers watch TV news. News has not yet become relevant to the young. (But just wait, young people!)Common

I’m afraid to go see a doctor anymore. I might wind up with one of those prescriptions. Their side effects sound riskier than the ailment.

I can see it now: Doctor says to me, “Bob, you’re got a touch of maxorenia. Here’s a prescription for it.”

Well, I’ve seen the ad for that drug many times. After stating what it’s for, the announcer reads a list of “possible side effects.” The list is longer than the tail on Halley’s Comet.

It is longer than a Super Bowl halftime show featuring Beyonce doing an in-your-face dance routine in minimal clothing.

It is longer than a speech by Vice President Joe Biden, especially if he begins with, “I’ll just say a few words….”

It is longer than the time I sat at a rail crossing in Columbia’s Five Points last week while waiting for a freight train to pass. Started on Tuesday, finished late Thursday. (34,874 cars, at least, passing at a snail’s pace — and occasionally backing up!)

Oh, and the list itself? It goes something like this: “Has been known to make your dog leave home (and not come back); has caused patients who drive Highway 17 to forego tailgating and speeding to beat the next light; can create an irresistible urge to vote Republican; can cause halitosis strong enough to peel paint; effected a complete cure in one out of 10 patients (the other nine have been moved to Intensive Care).

On and on the warnings go: “This medicine Is expected to double in price next week, same as last week, so stock up; was a prime suspect in pro football’s Deflate Gate last year (jury’s still out); causes terminal brown spot if spilled on centipede lawns; has been known to make old boy- and girlfriends show up on your doorstep after you’re married. (If you’re a male, be sure to ask for the blue pill; females should opt for the pink – unless, of course, well, you know: different strokes for different folks. Just remember: It’s a brave new world.)

The reason for all these warnings and disclaimers is obvious, isn’t it? The drug companies have been sued (successfully) more times than Carter has little liver pills. So now their lawyers come into court with a mile-long list of we-told-you-so’s. Imagine getting picked to sit on one of those juries! You could celebrate a couple of birthdays just listening to lawyers read (in relays) all the warnings that show how heedless and risk-prone the defendant’s customers were.

What I’m waiting for is a youth pill. If the drug companies come up with that, forget the side effects, I’m in!

No. Wait a minute. On second thought, I don’t want to know it all again. I’d rather continue to live and learn. Maybe the drug companies can come up with a Wisdom Pill. Imagine how long the list of side effects from that medicine would be.

(*Editor’s Note: Listed on image above are common side effects from actual warnings: headache; back, muscle, bone or joint pain; severe or continuing heartburn; diarrhea or constipation; flatulence; nausea; abdominal pain and bloating; painful swallowing; chest pain; pain in the arms or legs; blurred vision and an erection lasting more than 4 hours; swelling or tenderness of the breast; a specific birth defect; high blood pressure; an unsafe drop in blood pressure; shortness of breath; a slow heartbeat; weight gain; fatigue; hypo-tension; dizziness; faintness; decreased appetite; sleepiness; sexual side effects; nervousness; tremor; yawning; sweating; weakness; insomnia; fewer tears or have dry eyes; unexplained weakness; rare cases of tuberculosis; serious infections; a higher rate of lymphoma; vaginal bleeding; painful menstruation; leg cramps; breast pain; vaginitis and itching; difficulty breathing; closing of the throat; swelling of the lips, tongue or face; a personality disorder; numbness; a bad rash or hives; problems urinating; long-term loss of potency; stroke; interaction with other medicines or certain foods; seizures; blood clots; a speech disorder; increased salivation; amnesia; paresthesia; intestinal bleeding; colitis; confusion; decreased levels of sodium in the blood; fluid in the lungs; hair loss; hallucinations; increased levels of potassium in the blood; low blood cell counts; palpitations; pancreatitis; ringing in the ears; tingling sensation; unusual headache with stiff neck (aseptic meningitis); vertigo; worsening of epilepsy; serious kidney problems; acute kidney failure and worsening of chronic kidney failure; severe liver problems including hepatitis, jaundice and liver failure; coughing up blood; cough that doesn’t go away; blue-grey color or darkening around mouth or nails; slow or difficult speech; loss of ability to concentrate; hallucinating; extreme tiredness; seizures; numbness, heaviness, or tingling in arms or legs; floppiness or loss of muscle tone; lack of energy; excessive sweating; fever, sore throat and chills; bloody (or black) vomit or stools; worsening depression; sudden or severe changes in mood or behavior including feeling anxious, agitated, panicky, irritable, hostile, aggressive, impulsive, severely restless, hyperactive, overly excited, or not being able to sleep; dependency; unpleasant taste; thoughts of suicide and death.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review

The Gambler’s Apprentice

The Gambler’s Apprentice by Lee BarnesWhat a shame that the era of the Western movie headed long ago for the last roundup. The Gambler’s Apprentice, a novel by H. Lee Barnes, is perfect for adaptation to that great American genre – and, given the chance, just might revive it. It’s that good.

You listening, Hollywood?

Long story short, it is 1917, and a farm family in drought-stricken Texas is fending off destitution, albeit just barely, by rustling Mexican cattle across the Rio Grande. The war in Europe has created a demand for beef – and for cattle buyers who don’t care whose cattle it is or where it came from.

Welcome to the world of Willy Bobbins, the titular apprentice. Only sixteen as the opening credits roll, he is already adept at living on the edge, thanks to a drunken, improvident, and generally no-account father whose idea of vocational training is to tutor his son in remorseless theft, chiefly by example.

Given the gunplay and narrow escapes involved in their life of crime, especially from men who don’t take kindly to cattle rustling, our hero at first looks more like Willy the Kid than Willie, the kid, but through a chance encounter with a card shark while in the Laredo calaboose, Willy learns a new and better, and arguably safer, way to make a living: playing poker (if you don’t get caught cheating).

Sprung from the pokey and covertly working in cahoots, the two gamblers roam from town to town, staying in each until they run out of suckers or wear out their welcome, whichever comes first. Making real money at last, Willy dreams of returning home to the girl he left behind (and who belongs to somebody else), buying a spread of his own, and settling down.

Alas, when he does return home he screws up the lovers’ reunion and soon takes to the road again, this time toward New Orleans, because 1) the city is a magnet to life’s high rollers (of all kinds) and 2) because his common sense tells him “she went thatta way.” Lisette, his beloved, is a “girl of color” who dreamed of escaping the racism of Texas for the more cosmopolitan climate of The Big Easy.

Spoiler Alert: He never finds her, but he does begin to find himself, chiefly through helping others. New Orleans is in the grip of the 1917-18 ‘flu pandemic, and Willy spends much of his “fat bankroll” to find and buy what seems to be the most efficacious medicine against the miseries of the disease, simple aspirin, which has climbed in scarcity and price as the death toll has risen. He also risks his own health in distributing the aspirin, free, door to door, to his neighbors in the city’s French Quarter.

Running out of money in a city that disease is closing down, Willy concludes that “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” But he finds when he gets there that you really can’t go home again. Influenza has made off with his mother and little brother, his sister has married and moved to town, and nobody’s left except the last person he wanted ever to see again, his father, as unreconstructed an SOB as ever.

Except once in a blue moon, when else do you find a story packed with action and adventure involving big-as-life characters in settings and situations readymade for the silver screen? What’s more, the characters already know their lines; no script doctor is needed to improve this dialogue. Moreover, the author’s powers of description rival those of Cormac McCarthy in showing that the outback of the Tex-Mex border is no country for old men, and that even young ones age quickly there.

This novel has an appeal as wide as Texas and a historic sweep that is purely American. Willy Bobbins can’t read or write, but he is representative of the pioneer stock who settled the West, fiercely independent, amazingly resourceful, but touchingly bewildered by developments beyond their rustic ken: a world war, a plague, relentless drought, and a rapidly oncoming future in which they seem to have no place.

Even in cow-town Texas, the ubiquitous horse has begun to yield its importance to the new-fangled automobile, and a word picture of Willy watching telegraph and telephone poles march across the plains says it all. The road to the future, any future, has always been littered with roadkill, and people like the Bobbinses are often caught in the headlights.

Barnes, a Vietnam vet, makes his home in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he teaches English and creative writing at the College of Southern Nevada. With several prize-winning works to his credit, he was inducted in 2009 into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. The Gambler’s Apprentice was published by University of Nevada Press.

###

‘Once upon a time. . .’

So you’d like to write a novel. Then here’s Dr. Lamb’s prescription: take two Dark-and-Stormy-480x428aspirin and lie down till the desire goes away.

Just kidding. Truth is, if you’re really a writer, you will write, no matter what. And if  you’re not, well, I hope you’re at least a reader. Writers need readers and readers need writers, n’est-ce pas?

But I brought up the subject because an aspiring writer, a young girl, teenager, asked me the other day how to go about writing a novel.

I don’t think she was happy with my answer, but it was the truth: There is no one way to write a novel; in fact, there are about as many ways as there are writers. That’s why you won’t get much help from the advice of other writers.

James Clavell, author of Shogun and other novels, said he simply wrote one sentence after another until he’d written 100,000 words, which is about the length of the average novel.

Maybe so, but that probably is no help to a clueless beginner – which is what I was at one time (and I still consider myself a Work in Progress).

Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, bragged that he simply “threw words into the air and they landed on the page in the right order.”

He lied.

Joseph Heller, whose first novel was the runaway best seller Catch-22, said he had to have “the perfect first sentence” before he could begin.

Don’t follow his example, either. He didn’t publish another novel for 20 years! Moreover, he titled his second novel Something Happened, and critics panned it, saying, “Nothing did.”

Ouch!

What was the book’s “perfect first sentence?”

It was: “I get the willies when I see closed doors.”

The sentence is only so-so, I think you’ll agree, but its lesson is first-rate: Don’t waste your time waiting for perfection. If you’re going to write a story, no matter what, try this instead:

Start with The Day That Was Different, e.g. the day you decided on a career or path in life; the day you met the person you wished to marry; the day a doctor said you had but six months to live – in other words, the day after which nothing was ever the same again.

Next, decide on a point of view from which to tell the story:

*First-person POV (“I did this”) is easiest and is a reader favorite because there is no intermediary between the author and the reader.

*Third-person POV (“He/she did this”) allows the author wider range and scope;

*Second-person POV (“You did this”) is seldom used because of its obvious limitations.

Now resolve to write a minimum number of words per day. (Stephen King’s goal, 2,000; Hemingway’s, 250)

Then apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and write.

But while you sit there waiting for something, anything, to get you going, you might try a superstitious ritual of a famous writer or come up with your own.

*Steinbeck sharpened 12 No. 2 pencils to a perfect point before he could summon his muse.

*Capote wouldn’t begin or end a piece of work on a Friday nor would he write in a hotel room numbered 13.

*Victor Hugo wrote in the nude.

*The poet Dame Edith Sitwell liked to lie in a coffin before beginning her writing day. Her critics urged someone, anyone, to shut the lid and seal it.

Now you’re ready. Keep going until you reach THE END.

 

 

 

 

 

Family history, relatively speaking

When George W. Coggin of Greensboro, N.C., and Pawleys Island, S.C., set out to trace his relatives’ military service in the Confederate Army, he little dreamed the trail would lead to finding black kinfolk. Coggin is white.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the book that grew out of this journey into the past is Abraham & Jeremiah Coggin & The Montgomery Volunteers, published recently after years of research by Coggin, a retired lawyer, who with his wife Carol have a home in Litchfield Beach at Pawleys Island. We all met one day when I was out walking my dog, the late Dro Lamb, canine extraordinaire and companion supreme.

George W. Coggin“All this began as simply a project to transcribe letters from Abraham and Jeremiah so family members could have copies,” Coggin said. (Abraham and Jeremiah, who perished in the war, were two of four Coggin brothers who fought for the Confederacy. All four entered service from Montgomery County, N.C.)

The letters narrowly escaped burning in the 1940s when Jane Coggin Ellis, the author’s aunt, rescued them from the trash when the family home was being sold. Small wonder that Coggin dedicated the book to her.

Anyhow, Coggin’s “simple project” turned into a monumental undertaking when, while reading the letters, he began to ask himself: “Who are the people mentioned in these letters?”

The author and his generation of relatives had little knowledge of many of the family members that were mentioned in the letters — and no knowledge at all of others mentioned.

“I realized then that the letters were as much about Montgomery County and its people as they were about the Coggin family,” he said.

Thus began a self-assigned job, a huge one requiring extensive research and travel. The publication of the book coincided with Coggin’s 84th birth year. (Ever the optimist, he is now researching the letters of the other two Coggin brothers. His anticipated publication: 2026 on his 95th birthday!)

If you’re making your will any time soon, I hope you’ll do it with a lawyer like Coggin. In his book, no “i” goes undotted, no “t” uncrossed, and every person mentioned is footnoted. With instincts that a bloodhound would envy, Coggin tracked virtually every trackable move his subjects made, every battle, every maneuver, every march, every wound, every prisoner of war camp, every death — not just for Abraham and Jeremiah, but for all the boys who served as Montgomery Volunteers in Company C of the 23rd North Carolina Regiment.

Abraham Coggin

Talk about exhaustive (and exhausting) research! And it’s all documented! Maps, photos, battle plans, citations, even an index. What a deal for Civil War buffs!

Now as I was saying at the beginning of this column, George unearthed some history that he had not known was there. In 1981, as he was searching the death certificates index in Guilford County, N.C., he saw the name Alice Coggin Ingram.

Checking the death certificate itself, he saw that Alice Coggin Ingram was black and had been born in Montgomery County to Sam and Jane Coggin.

Coggin’s pulse quickened. It had been whispered in family lore down through the years that Abraham had fathered a child, Jane, by one of his slaves. Coggin had to know if this death certificate was the missing link. So he looked up the deceased’s sister, a woman named Rose Dark, who was the informant named on the death certificate. He called her.

“I told her who I was and where I was from, and she said, ‘I expect my people belonged to your people in slavery time.”

That’s true, he told her. “I have a copy of Abraham’s will, in which he willed your mother and grandmother to my grandfather.”

“Abraham was my mother’s father wasn’t he?” she asked.

Yes, he told her. “That’s what I always heard.”

Mystery solved. But that’s not the end of the story. Here; I’ll let the author tell it:

“I visited Mrs. Dark and gave her a photo of Abraham and a copy of his will, and I copied a photo of her mother, Jane, Abraham’s daughter. Mrs. Dark died in 1995. The funeral and visitation were held at Brown’s Funeral Service in Greensboro, N.C.

“As I was leaving the visitation, Mr. Brown approached and said, ‘If you don’t mind me asking, what is your connection with Mrs. Dark?’

“I told him our grandfathers were brothers. We are second cousins.”

When Coggin arrived next day for the funeral, Mr. Brown approached him again and said, “The family would like you to sit with them.”

“I was honored to be asked,” Coggin said.

Hard to imagine a more fitting end to a story about the Civil War.

(Color photo is author George Coggin; black & white photo is Abraham Coggin)

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Questions

It’s 2016 and time for some answers!

For this new year, I have decided to skip making resolutions and pose It’s 2016 and time for some answerssome nagging questions instead. These long-unanswered questions demonstrate more staying power than resolutions do anyhow, so here goes:

  • What happened to the United Nations’ peacekeeping role around the globe? How did the United States of America get saddled with the job – and enormous expense – of global policeman? Only a few years ago, an international crisis called for a peacekeeping force composed of member nations of the UN. Now nobody mentions it. Why?
  • Why should I be asked to “Press 1 for English?” Isn’t this America and isn’t English the language we speak? Yes! And to those merchants who confront their customers with this tomfoolery, I say: I never have and I never will press 1 for English, so “Puesto que en su pipa y el humo!”
  • I give up: How much wood WOULD a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?
  • And while we’re mulling that perennial riddle, once and for all, who IS on third?
  • Speaking of riddles, here’s one my grandfather loved, so, obviously, it’s been around a while (and is still awaiting an answer): If a squirrel running up and down a log 40-feet long gains a foot per second with each circuit, how long will it be before he is going both ways at the same time?
  • How did algebra ever become part of the core curriculum in high school – and why is it still there? I haven’t used algebra since I took the final exam, and I don’t know anybody who has. (P.S.: I made a C+ on the final exam and was glad to get it?)
  • How many pints go into a gallon? (And if you know the answer, maybe you could tell my long-suffering Aunt Clara how many pints went into my Uncle Jasper, her late husband. His cause of death remains a mystery, but we can rule out thirst.)
  • Who designed the Ocean Highway’s Median Project in Pawleys Island, S.C., and why has he not been horsewhipped in public?
  • And if he still has a job designing highways, why? (Editor’s Note: In its, uh, wisdom, the S.C. Highway Dept. eliminated the suicide lane on Pawleys Island’s busy Ocean Highway in favor of a raised median that allows motorists to cross the highway at only two or three spots. In short, state bureaucrats fixed something that wasn’t broken.)
  • Why can’t network sports announcers pronounce “Clemson“ correctly? They all say “Clemzon” – and that’s after hanging around the town and the team for a week prior to the game, and never once hearing anybody local (or even in the whole state) pronounce the name that way. (Let’s exempt NBC’s Al Michaels from this condemnation; the poor fellow, who grew up in Brooklyn, NY, can’t even pronounce “coffee.” He calls it “quaffee.”
  • Where does ISIS get all the equipment it uses to wage war around the clock? Bombs, bullets, rockets, rocket launchers, grenades, electronics, knives, guns, you name it – who supplies these weapons? How are they paid for, how shipped? And from where? Maybe we’re bombing in the wrong places.
  • Why does water expand when it freezes, while everything else contracts?
  • Why don’t we switch to a value-added tax system and get rid of the time-consuming, complicated, expensive annual tax-paying system we now have? Think of the savings in the cost of paper and manpower.
  • This isn’t one of my questions, but I couldn’t resist including it: “If a child refuses to sleep during nap time, is he guilty of resisting a rest?”

Christmas tree 1, writer 0

Tree-plainFile this under the heading of Best Laid Plans, the kind that “gang aft agley,” as Scottish poet Robert Burns warned in his philosophical poem ”To A Mouse.”

My wife usually shops for a Christmas tree with a scrutiny normally reserved for my shortcomings as a spouse. She also insists that I proffer an opinion on each candidate, after which she makes up my mind which tree to get.

This year it was going to be different. To help a charitable cause, she bought a Christmas tree online. That means she bought a tree sight unseen.

What did your mama tell you about buying a pig in a poke?

As usual Mama was right. The tree was too short. My wife likes a tall tree.

How short was this tree?

Well, to be kind I’d say it was vertically challenged.

But that wasn’t the tree’s greatest, uh, shortcoming. No hole had been drilled in the trunk’s bottom. Believe me, the spiked stand is the way to go; saints have lost their religion in trying to make a tree stand up straight in one of those contraptions that come with three or four bolts you have to tighten just so.

So we bought another, taller tree. Then my wife said, “Let’s decorate both trees. We can put the short one on the Carolina porch.”

“Be still, my heart!” I muttered – but I waited till she had left the room. My mama didn’t raise no crazy children.

Turned out, we actually had a spare tree stand, spiked! We also have a cordless drill. But we soon discovered that our drill could not bore a hole in a hot biscuit, let alone dint the tree trunk. Time for Plan B. We bought one of the old-fashioned tree stands!

Next, we found that branches near the trunk’s base prevented the tree from fitting into the stand. At this point, I could feel my own religion registering about a quart low, but I persisted. I fetched a hand saw and went to work.

I wrestled with that tree until I was inventing new swear words. Then Margaret exclaimed, “You’re bleeding!”

She was right. The saw had sliced across the thumb knuckle, and the wound was bleeding profusely. The cut wasn’t deep and was only about an inch long, but as Mercutio said to Romeo, “…’tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a churchdoor, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve.” I went to tend my thumb.

The cut bled off and on for more than five hours. Too, the saw wasn’t rusty; still it was a saw. “You’d better get a tetanus shot first thing tomorrow,” Margaret said. I didn’t think I needed one, but the last thing I wanted to do was die hearing: “I told you so.” Besides, truth to tell, I’ve learned that my wife is a pretty smart cookie.

Long story longer, I waited an hour next morning in a pharmacy’s so-called minute clinic before I got up and left. Stopped by the office of Dr. Tisha Williams, one of my doctors, and showed my wound to her medical staff. Twenty minutes later I was on my way home, happily immunized.

The short tree? The tree that fought back when I took a saw to it? The Christmas tree that only a Grinch could love?

It’s still on the porch, leaning against the wall, sulking, waiting no doubt for round 2.

It’s likely to have a long wait. I have only one good thumb left and my Christmas spirit already feels two sizes too small.

 

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