Friday Writing Essential Prompt, 12/19/2014 – WEMon 12/15/2014

I’m taking a chance on this one because I’m trying to answer Sharon’s prompt  and Greg’s challenge  at the same time. When I saw that picture I immediately knew what I wanted to write for Sharon’s prompt and then I thought about Greg’s challenge regarding humor. Hmm, can I combine them? Logically, no. Greg asked for an essay and he would have to use the most liberal definition of “essay” to classify this as such. He also asked that we steal an idea and I did – from me! I’ll let you judge whether I passed or failed on this assignment.

* * *

“Og home!”

“Woman know; smelled Og two mountains away.”

Og dropped the wooly mammoth on the ground and said, “Og kill food. Unka fix dinner.” He looked around the camp and said, “Where little things?”

“Children taking bath.”

“Bath? What’s that?”

“Go jump in river. Water wash smell away. You smell better.”

Og lifted his arm, stuck his nose under his armpit, took a breath, and took a step backward. “Unka right. Og smell bad. Og take bath with little things.”

As Og walked over to the river Unka checked the rope to make sure the children were not being pulled into the current and swept toward the waterfall.

Og walked out into the river, turned to look at Unka, and said, “Feel good. I clean all of Og.” Then he jumped forward into the river only to be caught by the current and swept over the waterfall.

Unka watched him go over the edge and then pulled in the rope with the children on it. As she untied them she said, “Come, Og bring food for one, maybe two moons.”

As they skinned and butchered the mammoth Unka thought about what would happen after the food ran out. She’d just have to find another man to hunt for her.

“Hmm,” she muttered, “where can I find another man as dumb as Og?”


Twelve Days of Christmas

I know! It’s early for Christmas stories, but if you decide to do what I’m describing, you’re going to need some time to plan.

* * *

The neighborhood was nearly silent as I watched my son leap over the block wall, sneak across our neighbor’s yard, and up to the front porch. Looking around, Greg carefully set a small paper bag in the middle of the porch, punched the doorbell, and ran. Off the porch and across the yard he scampered. He jumped over the block wall and plopped down beside me.

We watched as our neighbor opened the door and, not seeing anyone, came out slowly to look around. Noticing the paper bag, he called to his wife to come out and look. They peeked in the bag, chuckled, and walked back into the house.

A Halloween prank or some display of hate? No, it was actually based on love. Our family has had an interesting tradition for many years. We celebrate the twelve days of Christmas by giving a gift each evening to some family in our neighborhood.

Starting on the thirteenth of December, we give a small present for each of the twelve nights of Christmas. On the first night, we give one of something, two on the second night, and so on until we reach Christmas Eve when we give twelve of something.

Each night you sneak up to the victim’s door, leave a present with a card, ring the bell (or knock) and make your escape. We’ve always varied the times so we wouldn’t get caught.

The card can be a simple Christmas card with some holiday thought (but NO SIGNATURE) or you can write something specific for the gift. If you’re giving four candles, you might write, “On the 4th day of Christmas, your special friend gave to you, 4 festive candles,” or, “On the 3rd day of Christmas, your holiday friend gave to you, 3 catnip toys so Fifi can enjoy the spirit of the holidays.” As you can see I’m not good at this – that’s why my wife always wrote the cards for us. But you should at least get the idea.

Who do you pick as your victim? It can be the neighbor who visited you when you were sick, your child’s best friend in school, or the family across town that doesn’t have the money to do anything for Christmas. The latter is especially fulfilling as long as you make sure it does not come across as charity. The idea is to give – and have fun with it – not impress someone with what you have or can afford.

How do you come up with your gifts? Use your imagination. A sample shopping list might be something like this:

1                      Fruitcake
2                      Christmas Potholders
3                      Tree Ornaments
4                      Christmas Glasses
5                      Gold Bells
6                      Festive Candles
7                      Cans of dog food
8                      Christmas Pencils
9                      Feet of Garland
10                    Christmas (Hershey) Kisses
11                    Candy Canes
12                    Christmas Cookies

One easy way to do it is go to your local department store and walk through the Christmas aisles. Pick out one of these, two of them, three of that, etc. until you get to twelve items. If your friend likes Winnie the Pooh you may find a set of twelve Christmas lights with Winnie and his friends. If they have pets, think about chew toys for the dogs, catnip toys for their cats, or cans of dog/cat food.

We once found a large plastic candy cane with eight small, one-ounce jars of different jellies inside. We also found a door decoration consisting of a broad leather strap with five golden bells on it. You might consider that LifeSavers offers a storybook pack with eight rolls of candy. Any food gifts – cookies, candies, cupcakes, and specialty canned items such as relish – are always welcome.

Don’t let money settle the issue for you. You can make things at home just as well. It may be that your victim will find homemade gifts just as exciting as something for which you paid considerable money.

You’ve had fun for the past eleven nights watching your victim go crazy trying to catch you or figure out who is doing it. Now, how do you wind up your holiday prank? You may want to consider doing one of the following three things:

  1. Wait several weeks (or even months) to tell them who did it.
  2. On the last day, attach a Christmas card with your name on it.
  3. Or – our family writes a little poem giving them a hint about who did it. One we’ve used is:

The twelve days are over and so are our fears,
Having been caught would have ruined our Holiday Cheers.
Easy it was to hide from your eyes.
Many nights we laughed with pains in our sides.
All in all you’ve been a really great find.
Xtra special friends are always on our mind.
Well wishes for you and your family as well,
Every day of next year we hope will be swell.
Loving thoughts will keep us from having to tell.
Later when you figure it out give us a call.
Seasons greetings from us and God bless you all.

I know, it’s pretty bad and I’m sure you can do better. But, if you note, the first letter of each line spells out THE MAXWELLS. Sometimes they figure it out and sometimes they don’t. It’s all part of the fun.

This year, give someone a gift for Christmas — the very spirit of giving. It is so easy to start your own family tradition.

Collect various gifts and buy or make some cards to accompany them. Sneak up each night and leave one on their front porch, ring the bell, and make your escape. Prepare the final night’s poem (if you choose to do this) and wait for the fun. Remember, the idea is to reinforce the spirit of giving, the spirit of Christmas.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

* * *

© Len Maxwell. All rights reserved. First published in BackHome Magazine, Nov/Dec 2004.


Every couple months a hobo named Joe came through town. He would offer to clean the barn or hoe the garden in return for a meal and my grandparents always gave him something to eat. Somehow, he always seemed to disappear right after we fed him and we never did get any work out of him.

It seemed appropriate, when the raven appeared, that Grandpa would name him Joe. That raven never did anything for us, but always managed to get a meal.

We lived in Southern California and went to Oregon every summer for many years to visit my grandparents. The first such visit I can remember was in 1952 when I was five years old. That was the summer when Joe became almost a resident at the house.

The house was in Haines, a small farm community in the mideastern part of Oregon. Only a couple blocks from the main street of town, we had a barn, corral, two horses, chickens, and an acre or so of land.

Most of the land was my grandpa’s parking lot. He always had a broken down combine parked there, as well as two tractors: a Caterpillar diesel and an old red gasoline job. There were also two grain trucks; sometimes working, sometimes being worked on. The house had two small bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen. We had a back yard about thirty feet by fifteen feet, all dirt. Behind that was the barn and corral. My grandma had a garden plot about the same size as the back yard on one side of the house.

Joe had two regular perches. His favorite was one of the fence posts in the corral and he stayed there most of the day. Whenever one of the horses came close enough, Joe would hop onto her back and spend fifteen or twenty minutes pecking at the bugs on her. The horses seemed to like it because, as long as Joe stayed there, they would stop flicking their tails and stand still.

It did not take Joe long to learn our schedule. We got up before dawn, ate breakfast and, by sunup, were leaving to work in the wheat fields. As we left the house, one of us would toss some breakfast scraps down into the yard. After only a couple days, Joe would be waiting on the edge of the back porch for his breakfast. That soon became his second regular perch.

He got so he trusted us enough that he would hop down and start eating while we were still there. He never took anything from our hands and we could never pet him, but he did not fly away when we walked out. If one of us tried to reach toward him, he would just fly to his other perch and wait for us to leave.

Joe did have a couple bad habits and one of them involved me.

The house didn’t have indoor plumbing. We had an outhouse in the back yard and had to pump water by hand. There were two pumps, one in the kitchen sink and one in the back yard. The pump in the kitchen was for cooking, washing dishes, and washing faces and hands. The pump in the back yard was for watering the garden, washing clothes, and bathing. It was beside the back porch and had a large wooden wash tub sitting under the spout.

Each week I would take a bath in that wash tub. I would pump the water into the tub, lay my towel on the porch, get undressed, and climb into the tub. When I was clean, I would get out, take a step or two, pick up the towel, dry myself, and go back into the house. The first couple of times, Joe just hopped down onto the porch and watched me.

Then, something made him think I was either his dinner or his entertainment. As I got out of the tub and started to pick up my towel Joe hopped closer and pecked my bare rear end. It hurt! I ran around the yard a couple of times with Joe hopping right behind me taking a nip every chance he got. I finally escaped into the house.

Did I get any sympathy? No. Grandma was mad because I tracked mud into the house. When I explained what had happened, everyone laughed. I did not think it was very funny, but everyone else did.

One week, Grandpa gave me a stick about a foot long and told me, “If Joe chases you, shake this stick at him and scare him away.”

“But, Grandpa,” I said, “he’s too big.”

“Oh, hogwash,” grandpa said, “you just shake the stick at him. You’ll see, he’ll fly off.”

The next Saturday I felt safe as I took my bath. Joe sat on the corner of the porch watching me. I got out. Joe hopped over toward me. I reached for the towel. Joe hopped closer. I picked up the stick and turned toward him. He kept coming.

I swung the stick at him as hard as my five-year old arm could swing. Joe just took the stick away from me, dropped it on the ground, and came after me. I ran around the back yard with Joe chasing and pecking me. I finally escaped into the house. The whole family had been watching through the window and everyone roared with laughter.

Joe’s other bad habit was also his downfall. He had been a regular around the place for a month when a magpie showed up. The new arrival started spending most of the day with Joe. We saw something akin to a friendship develop between these two birds. Joe and the magpie would each perch on a different fence post. Joe would grunt and cry until one of us would walk out and toss down some food scraps. As soon as we went back inside both of them would fly down and eat.

It took a few days for the magpie to lure Joe into committing the ultimate crime: stealing Grandma’s eggs.

I watched Joe and the magpie through the kitchen window one day. The magpie sat on the fence post and acted as a lookout while Joe flew into the chicken coop. He came out with an egg in his beak, flew to his fence post, dropped it, and broke it open. He and the magpie then enjoyed fresh egg. I remember Joe and the magpie eating three eggs that day.

Grandma’s eggs were important to us. We had about fifteen hens that produced enough eggs for us to have breakfast every morning with a few left over. Grandma sold the leftover eggs in town for extra money. It was only a few dollars each week but in 1952 that was enough to buy a few steaks, a bag of potatoes, or a slab of bacon.

One evening, at dinner, Grandma said, “I think there’s something wrong with the hens. They’re laying fewer eggs.” I couldn’t quite suppress a giggle, but nobody seemed to notice.

Each evening Grandma made some comment about the hens laying fewer eggs. She was getting madder and madder at them. As a kid, I though the whole situation was funny. Joe and the magpie were eating eggs every day. Grandma was getting madder every day because the hens weren’t laying as many eggs. And… I was the only one who knew the secret of what was really happening.

One day, Grandma walked out the back door just as Joe was coming out of the chicken coop with an egg in his beak. The magpie screeched from his perch on the fence post. Grandma yelled, “Drop that egg, you thief.”

Joe dropped the egg and he and the magpie flew off over the house.

Grandma stood there looking at the broken egg in the back yard. She went on and on about Joe stealing her eggs. I stood in the back door and laughed. I couldn’t help it. The secret was finally out and I just couldn’t stop. Grandma looked at me and asked, “Did you know about this?”

I kept laughing as I told her what I had seen the past several days.

I didn’t understand when she said, “We’ll just see about that.”

When we came home from the field the next day, Grandpa noted that Joe wasn’t on his usual perch. At dinner that evening, Grandma said, “I found that thieving raven in the chicken coop again today.”

Grandpa asked, “Well, what are we going to do about him?”

“It’s already done,” Grandma said, “I waited for him with my .22.”

As soon as she said that – I knew. I just knew what was to follow. My grandma was a farm wife and was an excellent shot with her little rifle.

“As soon as that thief came out of the henhouse I shot him, but the magpie flew off.”

I didn’t really care about the magpie, but I missed Joe and his antics. The rest of that summer and for many summers after that, when I heard the raucous cry of a raven, I’d look around wondering if it was Joe. I always looked, but I never saw him again.

* * *

Friday Writing Essential, 11/21/14, “Joe.”

Winter for the Friday 11/15/14 Prompt

Living in SoCal is so neat in winter. I can get up, drive an hour or so to the beach to go surfing (wearing a wetsuit); drive another two hours, ride my dirt bike in 80° temps; drive another half-hour and play in the snow; then drive an hour to get home and grill a steak on my porch while I have a cold beer and look up at the snow on the mountains. Life just doesn’t get any better!

I don’t remember my first two winters so I only have about sixty-five winters upon which to draw for stories. I don’t want to stretch this out too long so I’m going to recap one thing I’ve mentioned before and then give a very brief explanation of two other winter experiences.

First the recap. My extended family lives in Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. We trade e-mails but rarely talk on the phone — until January or February. Those phone calls always end with a discussion of the weather and I moan about how cold it is. “Geez, it only got up to sixty-three today and it’s supposed to get down in the forties tonight. How are you guys doing?”

Normally a bunch of silence and then something such as, “We have three feet of snow, the high temp today will be about thirty-seven, and we’ll probably be around zero tonight.”

Yep, I’m that nice a guy.

* * *

I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in the late ‘70s. I had spent winters in NC before and they’re not ready for snow. In the early ‘70s there was a light dusting of snow around Christmas but it was really nothing. This year, though, we had a real storm. It dropped a foot or two of snow on the city around the base and everything pretty much shut down so for two or three days we did nothing. Well, I did — I introduced my two oldest kids to the pleasure of playing in the snow.

I opened the front door, stepped out onto the porch, and saw a huge snow bank just a few feet away from the house. “Greg,” I called to my oldest son, “come see the snow.”

He came out, looked at it delightedly, and said, “Can I play in it, Dad?”

“Sure,” I said as I picked him up and tossed him into the middle of it. Then I turned and called to my daughter, “Tracy, come quick, Greg’s playing in the snow.”

She came out, saw Greg just managing to fight his way to his feet, and started laughing at him. So… I grabbed her and tossed her into the snow as well.

They were both screaming about being wet and cold and, from behind me, I heard the wife, “What are you doing to those children?”

“Nothing, Dear, they’re just playing in the snow.”

Yep, nice guy me.

* * *

Then there’s the time that is somewhat embarrassing in hindsight but it worked out well that night.

I was attending Officer Candidate School at Quantico, VA, in January 1975. There wasn’t a lot of snow but the temperature was viciously cold one night when one of my friends suggested we go into town and have a drink so we walked out to the mud parking lot where my car was parked. I was lucky because I had a small sports car and it wasn’t mired down in the frozen mud like many of the larger vehicles were.

I was unlucky, though, because a light dusting of snow that morning, followed by a rain shower in the afternoon, and a temperature somewhere around 10 °F had frozen the door locks!

Knowing military history occasionally comes in handy. During the Korean conflict in the early ‘50s there many cases when weapons froze up on our troops. It was cold, snowy, and there were no sources of heat – except one.

I was in the same situation with cold weather and no source of heat except one. I unzipped my pants and applied a liberal coating of “natural heat” to the key and the lock. Worked like a champ and we were soon on our way to the local bar where we had a good laugh about what had just happened.

* * *

Friday, 11,15,14 Prompt. Winter

Happy 239th Birthday, USMC

EmblemEach year on this day I wish my brothers and sisters (several hundred thousand of them) a happy birthday. We’re 239 years old today. (Yes, I look older, but I’m not.)

Each year the Commandant of the Marine Corps publishes a birthday message to all Marines. This year General J. F. Dunford, Jr, our current Commandant, followed that tradition. His closing paragraph was the following:

Some things change. This year found us in different climes and places than our predecessors in 1944 and 2004. We have adapted our organization, training, and equipment to the ever-changing operating environment. Some things remain the same. Marines attacked this year’s challenges with the same courage, commitment, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and adaptability as their predecessros in Peleliu and Fallujah. For that reason, on 10 November 2014, we Marines can look back with pride on our accomplishments – confident in our ability to meet future challenges.

One thing that doesn’t change is the way Marines start out. Men in San Diego, CA, and men and women in Parris Island, SC, arrive at night on a bus and find themselves standing on a bunch of yellow footprints. Just one step and those who followed through became United States Marines.

I stood on those footprints in 1965 and my oldest son, Greg, stood on the same footprints in 1992. Today generation after generation do the same thing and share the same history and traditions with their ancestors and all our brothers and sisters in the Corps.

* * *

Every year I propose a toast to the Corps and always steal the words of someone who is so much better than I. This year I’ll use a quote from Rear Admiral “Jay” R. Stark, USN. As you read these words I’ll ask you to raise your glass in a toast to the United States Marine Corps

Marines I see as two breeds, Rottweilers or Dobermans, because Marines come in two varieties, big and mean, or skinny and mean. They’re aggressive on the attack and tenacious on defense. They’ve got really short hair and they always go for the throat.

Happy Birthday, Marines, and Semper Fi!

Painting a Picture – with Dialogue

The following is a response to Greg’s WEMon challenge of 10/27 dealing with painting a picture with words. In a comment on his post I mentioned that I probably couldn’t answer his challenge without some quotation marks. When I write I typically write the dialogue and then go back and fill in the “he said,” “she said,” “the moon rose,” “the wind blew,” and all that other expository gunk. The point is that exposition and I don’t play well together.

Then Greg had to up the ante and ask if I couldn’t paint a picture using dialogue. Hmm…

* * *

“What do you think it is?”

“I have no clue. It’s round and seems to be composed of layers of different things.”

“What’s that thing on the top?”

“It looks like a piece of bread.”

“No, even a crust doesn’t look like that. It’s more like a too well-cooked pie crust.”

“Lift it up.”

“I can only get it up a bit — the orange stuff underneath is holding it down.”

“Oh, just pull it apart. A bunch of orange stuff won’t keep you from separating the layers.”

“But it’s sticky, almost as if it’s melted.” A pause and then, “Okay, there. That’s strange. Below the orange stuff is some kind of layer that looks like a…”

“A what?”

“I’m not sure. I remember seeing pictures of ‘meat’ patties and that’s what this looks like.”

“A ‘meat’ patty? That can’t be. Not in our world.”

“Wait, below that there’s a layer of something soft and somewhat spongy. It’s yellow and white; all the colors are swirled together. I can’t make out what it might be.”

“Keep going, what’s under that?”

“Another of those bread or pie crust things with some kind of sauce on it.”

“Quick, close it up, we have to get going.”


“The other cars in the drive-through are honking at us.”

WEThurs August 21, 2014 – I’m Not a Misogynist

Today’s challenge: It astonishes me to report that the TV reality show Survivor is in its 29th season this fall.

  • Welcome to the island. Have you ever considered taking part in a reality show? Do you even watch them?
  • Where do you draw the line as regards your creature comforts?
  • Are you off the grid? Is this by choice or by circumstance? Tell us about the joys and/or heartaches of life in the slow lane.

* * *

In response to Maggie’s challenge I think I’ll talk about the creature comforts concept using an old post of mine along with some new exposition.

In case you’ve never read any of my stories, I’m a desert rat. I love the desert. I love the heat. I love camping in the desert. My oldest son has the same opinion of the desert as I do. The other kids aren’t as excited about camping in the desert, but they’ve all spent time there and know how to survive.


This picture (from Death Valley) shows you the environment you’ll find in our camping areas. One concession I’ve made to my “creature comforts” is that this old body just doesn’t move as it used to. I can still sleep on the ground if I have to, but I have a hard time getting up. As a result I now drag a cot out on our camping trips.

When you camp in the desert, you have to know how to survive on the least amount of water – there ain’t a lot of that wet stuff out there and one of the things you learn is how to clean your dishes after you eat. Many people will find this hard to believe, but sand works wonders in cleaning dishes.

Have you ever heard of sand blasting? Have you ever used sandpaper to smooth or clean something? The concept is the same. Sand cleans things very nicely. When you’re camping in the desert, have only a limited supply of water, and need to clean your dishes – use sand.

My sons had camped with me many times but, for some reason, my older daughter never got around to going with us and had not learned anything about desert survival. One summer, many years ago, I told her that my friend and I were going camping and she said she’d like to go along. As a parent, I felt it was my responsibility to teach her survival techniques because I’d done the same for my sons. I talked to her after we set up camp and said, “One of the things you have to learn is how to cook and clean up in the desert.”

When she agreed, I said, “I’ll cook dinner tonight and you and Bob will clean up. Tomorrow, you can cook and we’ll clean up.”

Realizing this was a learning experience for her, she said okay and we had a fun afternoon riding dirt bikes, drinking, telling stories, shooting, and generally having all the fun you would expect on a desert trip.

I don’t remember what I fixed for dinner, but we enjoyed it while sitting around the campfire. After dinner, I led her down into a dry stream bed, pointed to the sand, and said, “That’s how you clean the pots and pans.”

Blank look from her. I bent down, put a handful of sand into the pot, and started rubbing it around. As I backed off and she took my place cleaning the pot, I explained how the cowboys used sand all the time to clean everything.


I took a picture of her cleaning one of the pans and then she asked the question I was expecting. “What about the dishes and silverware?”

I said, “Oh, Bob’s taking care of that. You just get the pots and pans clean.”

What she didn’t know was that Bob was, indeed, washing the dishes and silverware except…

I had cooked dinner on a Coleman stove on the tailgate of my truck and Bob had put a pan on there, filled it with water, let it get good and hot, added some dishwashing liquid, and was cleaning everything else in a somewhat more modern manner.

After she finished scrubbing all the pots and pans, we walked back into camp where I took them and said, “Here, let Bob finish those.” That’s when she saw the hot, soapy dishwater and…

I wasn’t her favorite person for a while.