The Tree

We built our house thirty-eight years ago and have lived in it for thirty-seven. It is situated about fifty feet up from the road below and is next to the base of a mountain. There is an ancient tree atop a place on the mountain top that I have admired through my windows for every single one of those years. It has not a single leaf on it and stands there proudly, totally naked. Over the years, I’ve never even seen it lose a limb.

Many times I have wondered exactly how old that majestic tree is and how many storms it has weathered. We can have fierce winds with blizzards of snow or rain storms and even worse is the real tree killer known as lightning. Since this tree is right up there, proudly presenting itself, it is inviting all of those to demolish it. But it prevails. One has to admire and wonder at the strength this beautiful old tree must possess. They say oaks are strong and I often wonder if it is a mighty oak.

Think about it. If that magnificent old tree could talk, can you even imagine the stories it would tell? My house is sitting on land that was once a mine, and you know the tree saw a lot of activities during that era. In addition my daughter-in-law told me when she was in school my land was known as “Hooky Hollow”. That explains itself and I don’t need to tell you what went on then.

For me there is something magnetic about this old tree. I watched it while we built our house. It saw my husband carry me over the threshold as a new bride. It saw my children marry and watched my grandchildren carried in as babies. Today it has watched my great-grandkids. It has seen life and it has seen death. I lost my wonderful husband days short of four months ago and the tree watched him many times over the years we’ve lived and loved in our home.

I don’t really know why this particular tree fascinates me and draws my eyes to it so often. I check on it every day and it has never disappointed me. It has a special grandeur that pulls me to it. Oh, how I wish it could tell me what it knows.

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9/11 – WE DIDN’T FORGET, WHERE I LIVE!

Site for the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony

The little mountain tourist town in which I live is small in year-round population. However, it is big in heart. Today we gathered to remember the horror we witnessed twenty years ago. Since it was 8:30 in the morning, the crowd was not large. But it was very heartfelt. It was held outside of City Hall, with the ambulance and fire truck bays adjacent and the county court house diagonally across the intersection.

A bagpiper played Amazing Grace prior to the opening statements by the mayor and heads of the first responders – police/fire/sheriff/EMTs, etc. I had to compose myself when the bagpiper played prior to the ceremony. The last time I heard the same bagpiper play that particular song was at the end of my husband’s funeral a few weeks ago.

Waiting for the ceremony to begin as bagpipes played.

People ask where you were when you heard what was happening that fateful day twenty years ago. My husband and I were fixing breakfast when the phone rang and a friend simply said, “Turn on your television.” Without another word, she hung up. We snapped it on and were glued there the rest of the day. It was shocking. It was scary as hell. It was something we never thought we’d see happen in our country. But it made people forget about mundane matters like political/racial/religious/social status/occupations and such. We were all just people who were exactly the same. We were surviving the unthinkable together. Nothing mattered except helping our fellow human beings, whatever it took.

Officers of the Ouray, Colorado Police Department

Unfortunately, the love and camaraderie we shared that day did not last long before things went back to the way they had been before our country was viciously attacked. I have copies of LIFE Magazine with pictures on the cover of the events of that dreadful day. I saved them because I knew people would want to read about it sometime in the future.

The ceremony I attended this morning felt good to publicly remember those who lost their lives or loved ones twenty years ago and remind us it could happen again. We gathered then and we gathered now. It’s a simple thing to do, but lives are so incredibly busy that we sometimes forget.

Having said that, I’m now going out to proudly hang up my American flag.

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SIGNS AMONG THE ROSE PETALS?

My late husband’s memorial service (back on July 24th) was held outdoors in the local park with a strong law enforcement presence. The local chief of police had contacted me to suggest he would help me arrange a proper law enforcement service for my husband since Richard was a 42-year law enforcement veteran and had been the chief here for twenty-two years. We had two flower arrangements of big  white roses with police blue touches and a single red rose from me to him in only one arrangement. I brought both flower arrangements home after the ceremony. As they withered, I pulled each rose petal off and dropped them into one of the clear DRY vases.

Clergy both opened and closed the service with an appropriate prayer. My daughter spoke for me and herself, then my stepson talked about his Dad. He was followed by a former LEO, the chief of police, the sheriff and a former sheriff. A trumpeter played “Taps” followed by the traditional twenty-one gun salute. At the end of the service a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” Law enforcement officers were all in their formal uniforms and it was a beautiful and touching tribute to my beloved husband. The flag was folded and presented to me, as is customary.

But back to the rose petals. Today I noticed that some rose petals at the bottom of the large clear vase looked brown and possibly wet. Therefore, I spread paper towels on the counter and dumped them all out to properly dry. Imagine my surprise when I found a white bird feather among the petals in the bottom. Then as I pulled more out, I found a second white bird feather. I kept pulling petals out and yet a third white bird feather appeared. Since I had personally put each individual petal into that vase, nobody had been around here and it was sitting up high, I was astounded. It has been two weeks since the memorial funeral.

Here is where I may lose you as a reader of this particular blog. Many of us believe that our loved ones who have passed away before us will show us signs they have arrived in heaven and are okay. One of the ways they can do this is with white feathers. I have to tell you that I don’t see any other possible way for three white bird feathers to have gotten into the rose petals in that vase.

In addition, earlier when my husband had just died, I saw something sticking out from under the toaster in the kitchen. I was home alone and had been. When I pulled it out to see what it was, it also was a white bird feather. There are screens on all my windows and doors and no birds have been inside my house, nor has the vase with the petals been anywhere but inside.

(It should be noted that I wrote this five weeks ago, but grief kept me from posting in a more timely fashion. I still think it may be worth sharing, however.)

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MY OBSESSION WITH ERLE STANLEY GARDNER by Marilyn Meredith

It all began when I moved to Oxnard CA when my husband was serving in the Seabees. I honestly don’t remember exactly when it all started, but I know the first books I read by Erle Stanley Gardner were set in Oxnard—they weren’t the Perry Mason series. Of course I already knew about Perry Mason because there’d been a radio series about him when I was younger, and I was an avid fan.

Along came the Perry Mason TV show and I was definitely hooked. Hubby and I were watching the latest episode when I began experiencing labor pains for our third child. The pains became intense and close together, but despite my husband’s desperate urgings, I wasn’t about to head for the hospital until this episode was over. Fortunately, the hospital was nearby and we made it.

In later years, I went on a ghost tour with the board of the Public Safety Writers Association. Our first stop was at the old Ventura County Courthouse where we viewed the very court rooms where Erle Stanley Gardner defended his clients. We also made a stop at the front of the building where the lawyer turned author had his office. No, we didn’t see any ghosts.

I had the privilege of being a guest author and instructor at a mystery writing conference in honor of Erle Stanley Gardner several times. It was held in Temecula where Gardner retired from his law practice to write his mystery novels.

When I began writing The Trash Harem, #19 in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, which is set in the town of Temecula I knew I had to find a way to include Gardner the writer. You’ll have to read the book to see how he fits in.

Official Blurb:

Deputy Tempe Crabtree has retired from her job in Bear Creek when friends, who once lived in Bear Creek and attended Pastor Hutch’s church, ask her to visit them in Temecula. The husband, Jonathan, is a suspect in what might be a murder case. The retirement community includes many interesting characters, any of whom might have had a better motive than Jonathan. There is also a connection to Earle Stanley Gardner as well as the Pechanga Old Oak. What is a trash harem? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

To purchase The Trash Harem

Marilyn Meredith’s Bio:She is the author of over 40 published books including the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, and writing as F. M. Meredith, the Rocky Bluff P.D. series. She’s a member of two chapters of Sisters in Crime and the Public Safety Writers Association.

Webpage: http://fictionforyou.com/

Blog: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.meredith

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MY OFFICER IS DOWN

On the night of May 16th, my 42-year-veteran law enforcement officer fell several times in the night after repeatedly getting out of bed for reasons unknown to us. The final time he fell, we discovered him bleeding and unconscious on the floor from hitting his head. We called 911 and he was transported to the local hospital, forty miles from home. They discovered two brain bleeds. Seven hours later, he was flown to Denver’s Swedish Medical Center, noted to be the best place in Colorado for treating his situation.

Two weeks and two days after his fall, they moved him into a nearby Denver rehabilitation center. He remains there, working with various therapists throughout the day, seven days a week, and is doing well. At this point, we do not know if he’ll return to his mental or physical baseline prior to the injury, show improvement or be different. We pray he’ll be better. They think the constant falling on that fateful night was caused by an urinary tract infection.

The facility he is in is fantastic. They consult with me before doing any small thing concerning him and they rehab him several times a day. Our hopes and prayers are presently pinned on the care he is receiving there. The staff is affable and welcoming and truly care about each individual patient.

We recently celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, never being apart for any length of time. Tears have refused to allow me to shed them, but I’m sure they are not far beneath the surface. I can feel them there. We will be going to see him again soon. The trip is long and our stay is short, but I need to be where I can hug him and see him smile. All of his nurses have mentioned how his beautiful smile makes their day.

JACKIE & RICHARD

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TODAY IS LAW ENFORCEMENT MEMORIAL DAY

In honor of Law Enforcement Memorial Day, author and former Suffolk County New York Police officer, Keith Bettinger, has written two poems that I share with you below:

Judiciary Square By Keith Bettinger

Author Keith Bettinger

The wall is gray,

Made of granite, tough and strong.

It stands in an old converted parking lot,

That’s now a very special spot.

It lists the names of thousands of America’s best,

People who pinned badges upon their chests.

They came from the four corners of our great country,

but now they’re part of a sad fraternity.

It doesn’t matter where or when they met their fate,

The ones they left behind come to visit and contemplate.

To touch that name, and shed a tear,

Remembering who they lost and held so dear.

The flags ripple in the breezes above.

Flowers are placed with respect and love.

Uniformed hands render salutes,

Friends are gone, but duty calls, survivors remain resolute.

OUR OLD TOYS

by

KEITH BETTINGER

Our old toys, they sat in the garage.

Mommy and Daddy, always bought us new,

New toys became old, and sat alone waiting to be used.

We enjoyed our toys, but new was always better.

We played with what we liked, until we received another.

Daddy was our hero, he bought us what we wanted.

He worked real hard and many strange hours.

He was always in danger and wanted to protect us

From things that kids should never see,

Things that some kids just accept as reality.

One day Daddy went to work, but he didn’t come home.

His boss met Mom at the door, and held her as she cried.

He told us he was sorry, but Daddy had died. 

We didn’t play much after all was said and done.

When your Daddy’s gone, it’s hard to have fun.

We read about a wall that was being built.

It would have the names of peace officers who were killed.

They needed money, to make this wall come true.

We went into the garage, and found those old toys

They were just like new.

We had a sale one Saturday morn.

By afternoon the toys were all gone.

We wrote a letter and sent a check.

We asked if this was enough

To list Daddy’s name with all our love and respect.

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IT ALL BEGAN

On April 26th my husband and I will celebrate 35 happy years of marriage. Since neither of us need anything, we usually buy something that both of us want or can use. This year I had an 18×18 inch throw pillow made that says IT ALL BEGAN with an area to fill that information in along with the names and dates. We both laughed when I had it say “At a Hardware Store”. But that truly is where it started.

I had been putting the finishing touches on the new apartment on top of our commercial building all day and was both tired and dirty. The building contained my bookstore, the apartment above it and an antique store below. On the way home, I stopped at the local hardware store to buy an Apartment for Rent sign. I stepped inside at the top of the flight of stairs that went down into store level and said to myself, “Wow! Look what just blew into Ouray!” I saw the best looking man I’d ever seen in my life talking to the owner at the checkout counter below. Oh, I wasn’t the only one who had this thought about him. The available ladies in town were standing in line to meet him for a very long time.

Not wanting to be seen by him with a red dew rag tied on top of my long, sweaty hair, I was careful to hide behind the tall counters that made up the aisles of the store until the man left. I came out of hiding and plonked my sign down on the counter to check it out.

The store’s owner said, “Is your apartment ready?” I told him it was and he asked, “Did you see that guy that just left?” I assured him I did. He replied, “He’s new in town and is looking for an apartment. ” This is a small town and it’s very easy to find new people. By that night, the handsome gentleman had rented my brand new apartment and was happy to have it.

He was single and a newly retired metropolitan homicide detective that never wanted to be in law enforcement again. He had retired after twenty years, the last eleven in homicide. He applied for a job as an UPS driver and told this to everyone who would listen. Despite that, three months later he was sworn in as the local chief of police and remained in that position for twenty-two years when he opted to retire. City Hall was right across the street from my building and it was super convenient for him to get to work and back home. Five years after that fateful day when we first met, we were married. It was the best thing either of us have ever done.

My very first novel was based on a case he had worked in the city. One day he remarked that he’d love to see that case written up as a book. I decided to get his old files out and do just that as an act of love for him and for no other reason. The case was rather horrific and I had to stop writing at times and put the files away for a week or two, but finally it was finished.

That book was Footprints in the Frost. I wrote it and tossed it on a shelf where I discovered it years later. I read it once more and decided to rewrite it as fiction and enter it into the Public Safety Writer’s Association’s Writing Competition. My plan was if my book bombed there, that would be the absolute end of it. Imagine my surprise and delight when it won First Place in the Fiction Book Non-published category in Las Vegas on July 13, 2014. My publisher at the time (Oak Tree Press) was delighted to publish an award-winning novel for me.

That was the beginning of my fiction novel writing and today I have seven books on the market with an eighth as my WIP. I also wrote a sequel to Footprints in the Frost titled Snow Angel that won a PSWA Honorable Mention award on July 16, 2017. Both are available on Amazon.com, if you’d like to check them out.

Your comments are always welcome on my blog or via email, Facebook and Twitter.

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Lunch With the Dalton Gang

My husband was born in a house built by his grandfather on a large homesteaded wheat farm in western Kansas. If the walls of that house could talk, what wonderful stories they could tell.

His grandmother was Scotch/Irish and a tiny little thing in stature, though she is reputed to have had a fiery personality and hair-trigger temper. She, her husband and little daughter moved from Indiana to western Kansas in 1883, leaving behind a son in his eternal rest.

Grandpa was adventurous and when he heard about the opportunities in the west, he took his horse and wagon and rode on a railroad car to where the rails ran out in Anthony, Kansas. His wife and daughter had gone ahead via passenger train and the family reunited there. With the wagon, horse and a borrowed one, they traveled on trails requiring them to ford rivers and creeks with all their possessions. They lived in a sod house about three-fourths of a mile north of the splendid farm house he eventually built. The house still stands today, occupied by his descendants. Family legend says the weeds outside the sod house were taller than grandma and she had to pick bugs off her small child every night. Hearing such stories, it is not surprising the tiny lady had a red-hot and quick temper.

In July 1884 Grandpa homesteaded one hundred and sixty acres that is still part of the much larger Zortman farm of today. There isn’t a lot of excitement around the farm right now, but let me tell you about the day when there was plenty of action with Grandma right in the middle of it.

On June 8, 1893 Grandma was cooking the noon meal for her husband, sons and field workers when the Dalton gang rode into the yard. They spotted the nearby barn and put their horses inside it, leaving one member to tend to them. They walked across the short distance to the house and entered it, telling Grandma they wanted food. She told them the men would be in from the fields shortly and she would feed them at that time. However, they didn’t hesitate to make it clear that was not going to happen and they would have their food right then and there. She fed them.

When they finished their meal, they returned to the barn and sent the lone man in to also be fed. When his hunger was sated, they saddled up and rode off to Cimarron, Kansas where they robbed a train. Following that, they retraced their trail, riding hard and fast past the farm while Grandpa and a neighbor man happened to be standing outside in the yard. They did not bother to acknowledge the two men, wave or stop to talk and appeared to be in a tremendous hurry with their horse hooves kicking up dust and gravel as they rode by.

When Grandpa and the neighbor later heard about the train robbery, the neighbor is said to have remarked, “I had my big 50, if I’d a known what they’d done, they’d never have made it out of Kansas.”

I’ve never heard how Grandma felt after all of this happened, but were it me, there would be a twelve-gauge shotgun by my side and a substantial pistol in my apron whenever I cooked lunch.

I hope you enjoyed this true story and that you’ll check out my books at http://www.amazon.com/author/jackietaylorzortman. My latest book is GHOSTED: Book Four in The Drifter Series at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DJCB74H.

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Big Snowstorm Rolling In

According to the meteorologists, here in the southwest Colorado mountains we are preparing for a huge snowstorm from today (Friday) through Monday. We don’t panic when this happens and it is probably easier for us than those of you who have been and are long in city pent. We love the snow in Colorado and our outdoor activities, such as the ski resorts, pray for plenty of it. In addition, we are in a drought condition and need the moisture.

The storm has already begun here at our house and my husband and son have prepared the snow blower and Jeep with the snowplow on it with adequate gas and have a collection of snow shovels and brooms handy and dry. We have groceries in the house and our son is a chef and does almost all of the cooking. In addition, we have a treadmill, exercise bike and free weights, so working out won’t be difficult, if you don’t get enough cardio from shoveling snow or cleaning the house.

Forty years ago, I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio and three inches of snow would absolutely shut that entire town down. Around here, three inches of snow is considered a dusting and we pay little attention to it since we often measure our snowfalls by the foot. Normally it is powdery and not conducive to making snowmen or snowballs, but sometimes we have a wetter version that packs well and is super heavy. It’s much like picking up water with a shovel and pitching it off the deck or wherever else it may happen to be. A nice push broom is a must for cleaning snow off the vehicles because pickup trucks and SUVs are what most everyone drives in winter. We couldn’t get up our driveway without four-wheel-drive..

On a lighter and brighter note, the snow is absolutely beautiful and those who visit, but do not live here, say it looks like a Christmas card. I have to admit that it is absolutely beautiful and I love it.

I know there have been some horrendous snowstorms in many other places recently and they have created havoc and left many people without electric or other essential needs, so I’m not trying to make light of the seriousness of the situation. Furthermore, things can get ugly here, too, when things such as the loss of electricity come into play. We have a wood-burning stove in our home with lots of candles plus my mother and great-grandmother’s kerosene lamps, in case we are forced to be independent. It’s simply a different life-style in our remote neck of the woods and living here isn’t for everyone.

Wherever you are today, I sincerely hope you are safe and warm and that you have everything you need. COVID has taught most of us how to stay home and survive well, so that is the silver lining in that horrible pandemic. To quote the tag line that has come with our nemesis virus – We Are All In This Together. Be kind. That works for snowstorms, too.

PS: While you are weathering the storm, it’s a great time to read good books. My latest is titled GHOSTED: The Drifter Series Book Four. You can find it on Amazon.com.

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Murder on the Dance Floor

While doing a search on Amazon.com, I ran across six different books with the title “Murder on the Dance Floor“. This snapped my mind back in time to a story I’ve known for many years involving my great-grandfather, known locally where he lived as Al Hale and to me as Pappy.

Pappy died when I was five years old and that was my first experience with death. Of course, back then they didn’t tell children anything at all about what was going on, so it was all a huge frightening enigma to me from beginning to end. I was only five years old at the time. All the quiet and secrecy surrounding me was terrifying to me, only to be surpassed by the mob scene and tears, plus the fire and brimstone service at his funeral.

Pappy was a member of a Bluegrass Band that had been playing for a dance on July 24, 1914. As I understand it, the place was packed with revelers, all local folks enjoying the festivities of Christmas Eve.

As the story goes, one woman had asked her husband to watch their children while she walked a short distance to repay another woman a small amount of money she owed her. She had it in change that was wrapped in her apron and she set out on her mission, saying she’d return in a few minutes. Apparently, she didn’t keep that promise and at midnight her husband set out to find her. He must have waded the creek because he is said to have been wearing trousers that were wet to his knees and is alleged to have been drinking.

Long story short, he found his wife at the dance. She was on the dance floor dancing with a man the husband was very jealous of. He stabbed and killed her right then and there…on the dance floor. Another man at the dance was also stabbed when he tried to interfere. Then the killer tried to stab himself but was unsuccessful in his suicide attempt, inflicting only superficial wounds before passing out.

One little girl remembered seeing the funeral procession pass by her house on December 26, 1914 while snow softly fell. Many people slowly walked to the church and cemetery on the hill. The knife is said to have been borrowed from the little girl’s father and it was eventually returned to him, though he didn’t keep it.

The victim’s death certificate (which I happen to have a copy of) states the cause of death as “killed by knife stab-instantaneous death”. Written on the bottom in someone’s handwriting are the words “Crazy husband killed his wife.” She was twenty-seven years old at the time of her death.

The killer served one year and one day for the murder.

But I still think Murder on the Dance Floor is one terrific title.

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