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summer 2008

Howdy Folks,

When I was doing my sit-ups this morning, I thought about wedding anniversaries and such. I hate doing sit-ups.

In a few weeks, Shirl will start gloating and humming Sousa marches. You see, in August, we will be married for 97 years. Being married to the Redhead for almost a century is like being chained to Jeffrey Dahmer for life. You have to always be on your guard, less she go for your head…or other parts—even though she’s convinced our son, Matt, that I would have been dead in the gutter by 30 had she not seen fit to marry me. (I guess I was a bit, ah, spirited.) You know, sometimes the gutter looks rather inviting. Yeah, sometimes I just stand on a curb looking down wistfully.

Well, I can’t deny that I wasn’t warned. One Sunday, in the summer, in between our respective two-year master degree programs, I proposed to Shirl in a phone call. All right, okay, it wasn’t the most romantic way of doing the deed. She was staying with her mother and I was staying with my grandma, down in the slums. I was walking grandma’s dog, Bat, around; and in a fit of insanity, I walked into this phone booth and called and proposed. I really don’t remember much about the incident itself because I was in a state of shock. Shirl says she heard me go down on one knee in the phone booth. I think I was probably trying to wrap the cord around my neck.

Anyway, I was stumbling along in a daze and found myself in front of Poppa Joe’s, an old working class Creole bar. I went in and got a stein of beer and went outside to sit on the curb to consult with Bat, one of the few creatures who ever listened to me. I took a slug of the brew and held the stein for Bat, who took a sociable lap or two, although he really preferred chocolate-chip cookies. Poppa Joe’s did not sell those, however. I took another drink and then I started a long discussion with Bat, who seemed to nod encouragement from time to time—until I got to the meat of the matter. I said to Bat, “Well, Bat, I’m going to marry Shirl. You know Shirl.” Bat curled his lip. That was warning number 1. Bat was an exceptionally intelligent dog.

But I missed that warning. I was still dazed at the enormity of what I had wrought. Bat and I finished the beer and headed back home. When I got there, I confronted grandma.

I said something such as “I’m going to get married, grandma.” Grandma looked at me and laughed, pounding her cane on the floor. I said, “Grandma, I’m not kidding. I’m going to get married!” The old lady pokered up and looked at me as if I had just told her I was going to lick a leper. She said, “Who you going to marry, Old Man Henke?”

Grandma used to refer to grandpa as “Old Man Henke.” She’d left him years earlier because he was a professional riverboat gambler (gospel truth}, and a bad one at that. Whenever she got vexed with me, and it didn’t take much, she’d call me by the same name.) I answered, “I’m going to marry Shirl.” Grandma looked puzzled for a moment. “Shirl?” I said, “Yeah, that little redheaded girl I’ve been bringing to Sunday dinner for the past couple of years.” Grandma considered all of this for another minute. “Why she’s a nice girl. Why’d she want to marry you? Never’ll work out.” That was warning number 2. Missed that one, too. I was still in a bit of a daze. And besides, grandma was meaner than a gator with hemorrhoids. I never paid attention to her except to stay out of range of that cane.

Nonetheless, I was being watched over by a Higher Power, yea, a benevolent power!

The next day at my summer job a crane operator dropped a ton of sewer pipe on me, breaking my knee in three places. Did I finally get it, put two and two together? Nope, not me! There was no fiery message etched into the pipe that read, “Look, stupid, I’ve already given you two warnings. This is warning number 3.” I missed that one too. Wouldn’t you think a Higher Power could communicate with a bit more clarity? At least a lousy burning bush or something?

But in spite of the fact that women celebrate wedding anniversaries while men mourn them, when we moved back to St. Louis, the city where I gifted Shirl with myself, I thought I would make up for the clumsy proposal (as if I was not recompense enough). Thus, just before our anniversary, I went down to the old Stanley Courtel where we spent our four-day honeymoon. (We were very poor.) Our old cabin, No. 13, was still standing. So I went into the office to make arrangements with the owner and her daughter. At first, I’m certain they thought I was planning a tryst with a hooker. When I got done telling them what I wanted them to do and handing them a wad of cash to do it, I’m certain they thought I was a fool.

In any case, the next afternoon, the day of our wedding anniversary, I took my supplies to the Courtel office and went over final arrangements. That night I told Shirl that we were going to the Bristol, which has an excellent seafood menu. To get there we had to pass the Courtel, but instead of passing by, I whipped into the parking lot and pulled up in front of cabin no. 13. Shirl barely noticed. She was humming a Sousa march. I got out and went around the car to get her, walked her to the door of the cabin, unlocked it, then swept her up in my arms, and entered. Per arrangement, there was a single candle burning in a silver candlestick, Champaign icing in a bucket, and a bed strewn with red long-stemmed roses—one for every year we had been married. (Looked like a bloody funeral.) After she got over the shock, she started gathering the roses from the bed. I said, “Honey, what are you doing. I paid the florist almost as much as I paid for the flowers to strip all the thorns off those roses. I intend to make love to you on a bed of roses.” And she says, “Oh no, darling, that would be such a waste. I’m going to put these in the bathroom in some water.”

Can you imagine it? This woman is a romance writer who turns down what I suppose might be a fantasy right out of a romantic novel: being made love to on a carpet of fresh roses. She put the roses in the toilet! Later that night, I took her to the Bristol for late dinner. I should have taken her to Long John Silver’s.

Take Care,

Jim

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Jim in front of a classroom, teaching during his tenure on our local school board.


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Jim posed for the River Nymph book cover, chose the lady with the cards model and created the basic design from which Kim Killion worked.


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TWO FREE NOVELLAS


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