A Good Guy Who Aged Well. ©2015

Pondering the generations, with L.E. Taylor

IN 1943 AMERICA, an eight-year-old boy’s imagination was teeming with real heroes. Certainly mine was. Not rock stars or millionaire sports hotshots; these were true, living heroes, not much older than I. Unlike our twenty-first century darlings, these icons weren’t full of themselves. These heroes didn’t strut or preen. They just worked. They got dirty and bloodied, and many died young doing the work they were paid a pittance to do.

They waged war against evil.

In the great fortified arsenal that was our city in those days, everyone was obsessed with The War. We lived in the shadow of fear and uncertainty that haunted families everywhere in the world. But we were uniquely blessed – the hideous battlefields of Europe and the Pacific would not come to us. Too much ocean to cross for the bad guys to get at us. Instead, American families had to send their youngsters “over there”.

Television wasn’t even a word. All we knew of the drama came by way of the radio, daily newspapers, and Life Magazine. But they were enough to invade a child’s innocent mind with the unspeakable. Enough for a bright, imaginative lad to draw conclusions about good and evil, bad guys and good guys.

Yesterday, I opened an email from a neighbor. It had a link. Suddenly, I was in the presence of one of my heroes of 1943. No, I didn’t know this fellow personally, or even by name. But I recognized him in a flash. He wore a crisply laundered and starched U.S. Air Force summer uniform, with big silver captain’s bars on the collar. His officer’s cap was as squared and as becoming to his handsome ninety-one-year old face as it had been the last time he wore it. Seventy years ago.

Please allow me to introduce you to P-51 Mustang fighter pilot, Captain Jerry Yellen:


When I grow up I want to be just like him.




Catherine Writes, from the Past ©2015

A childhood recollection, passed along by L. E. Taylor

WE ALL HAVE STORIES. There are many reasons for telling them, some selfish, some generous. The same goes for not telling, for not remembering.

In 2012, I created a series of workshops for mature people to help them discover their own versions of the writer’s craft. It would be an oasis where they could tap into the truth of their past and enjoy the pleasures of family storytelling.

But the joy has a price.

A couple of years ago, the first students arrived in Session One of Workshop three. As always, I gave the group a six-minute drill. They would write stream-of-consciousness, and then read aloud what they’d written. When it came Catherine’s turn, she balked, read haltingly, and wept. She had tried to write about what was most on her mind, the searing pain of her husband Bill’s retreat into dementia. Overwhelmed by raw anguish, Catherine had been able to scratch out just two simple sentences, then she slid the sheet of paper to me to read aloud. It was not a story. But it was true. Everyone was moved. Without knowing it, Catherine had given us a poem.

Last Thursday, after two years of courageous writing about her wonderful up and down life with Bill, Catherine arrived in class with a gift – an anecdote from childhood that she’d been unable to complete since those first sessions. It had bloomed from that two-line poem about Bill, into a true story from deep within her…


In the Woods at Grandma’s House
Draft 3 – October 15, 2015
By Catherine

I am running and crying, so scared. If they catch me I will get beaten. I’m five years old and I’m getting tired. I have to reach those woods before they catch me. I play in the woods alone all the time and I know where to hide. It’s late and getting dark. I’ve never been here in the dark. I am in the woods now and they quit chasing me and they went home. I feel safe from those people that hate me so much. I know why they are so mad at me. I shouldn’t have pulled that chair from under Aunt Betty as she was sitting down for dinner. I guess because she is going to have a baby real soon; made the fall to the floor worse. I did it because I hate her. I don’t like living at my grandmother’s house. I wish my mother would let me live with her.

          If my daddy were here, he wouldn’t let my grandfather beat me with that leather razor strap. I wish my dad didn’t die when I was three years old. He is my secret dad now. I talk to him when I am scared and lonely. Sometimes I think he’s the only one that loves me. I don’t know why Aunt Betty had to lie about him. She said he was “a no good drunk”. That’s why I pulled the chair out from under her. I wanted to hurt her like she hurt me.

          I’m sitting here, leaning on a big hickory tree, I am still mad but I am scared because it is dark now. The sounds are different in these woods at night. I just saw the lamps go out and the house get dark. I will wait until they are asleep before I go home. Maybe I can sneak in and get in bed with my little brother and tomorrow they won’t remember the bad thing I did.

          Catherine, age 5


THIS VIGNETTE IS TRUE. In the course of courageously writing many lively and charming stories, Catherine had kept this harsh memory of childhood abandonment and abuse as a visceral challenge that she had to master. It took seventy-five-year-old Catherine three drafts, using different techniques learned with practice, to write it well.

Last week, after seventy years, it was ready for you to read. She broke several of my rules – number one: Avoid starting every story with “I”.

I forgive her.




Neighborhoods, Work, and Ginger Ale ©2015

Memories of an ancient city, by L. E. Taylor

THE OTHER DAY, a newspaper article came my way about an archaeological find in my (old) hometown of Detroit. It was a short item– you might say, perfunctory. There was a color photograph. My mind began to race. I had to drop everything and write what I know about this topic, and what struck me about the puny way it was covered.

But the memories came in a torrent; too much to handle. I could write a book.

Well, once I did. Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, was about the two branches of my personal “tree,” and the world I remember in vivid detail. But my musing this morning is not a pitch for a book. Something tells me it will take you and me further than that.

Let’s see.

The America we see in 2015 did not exist in, say 1900. Our country was a crazy-quilt of immigrant settlements, most of them founded in the previous century. These settlements were robust, but still fragile in their parochial attachments to Old Europe. The cliché of “melting pot” conjures images of the Irish and Italian enclaves in New York and along the East Coast where poor refugees trudged off the boats and plunked down right there, many to be victimized by remnants of the same tyrannies and corruptions they’d fled.

By 1900, the immigrant families had become Americans, and were migrating westward, away from the decadent Old to the fertile new centers of industry. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago became smoky jewels in the golden crown of our industrial nation.

We know them as cities, as parts of that melting-pot cliché. They were, in fact, clusters of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods of working families. Shopkeepers, tradesmen, manual laborers, risk-takers, doctors, teachers… and the preachers and saloonkeepers who served the best and the worst of them.

It was all about one thing: work.

Work demanded energy, work focused a person’s mind and it validated one’s life. Work enriched not only the family bank account, but also the community spirit.

Pride of place became more than a provincial bias. It said, “The Ludwig children had to leave school to work so their widowed mama could keep her house”… It proclaimed, “The Taylor’s were dirt-poor coal miners who made their way north one-by-one to their future, and in one generation, succeeded to middle class respectability”… It boasted, “The Monaghans and Ryans and Kanes survived famine and abandonment to earn small (temporary) fortunes and even build modest summer homes on the Canadian side of the Lake.”

Every family was guided by a different faith: Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and “none”. Every family believed in the future, especially for its next generations. Every family tended its own lawns and gardens, kept up its own home, rooted passionately for the Tigers, spent less than they earned, and most voted Republican.

In the 1850s great grandpa Fred Lottner had made his way to Detroit from Bohemia as a teen age orphan, got employed by a local brewer, and in the 1890s became Brew-master of Stroh’s brewery. When Prohibition came the working families all made do. For the drinkers, luscious, aromatic Canadian whiskey was just across the River and could be smuggled back on the ferryboat, often in mama’s knickers; and Labatt’s Ale and Molson Golden were wonderful substitutes for our own suddenly illegal brews.

Will Kane lived in Canada but ran a Detroit speakeasy. And Stroh’s converted to making ice cream, the best in Detroit. Which brings us back to the archeological find.

Back in Colonial times, and through the nineteenth century, pharmacies were run by independent practitioners, called village apothecaries. They were chemists licensed to dispense drugs and healing herbal elixirs. In 1862, a Detroit apothecary, James Vernor, was called to war. Among his store of medicinals was a unique ginger-based concoction that he sealed into a sturdy oak barrel just in case he got back to Michigan alive. Four years later, James opened the cask and discovered the secret brew had aged into an amazingly satisfying drink. He sold some and made some more. His fame grew and Vernor’s Ginger Ale soda fountains opened across the Great Lakes region.

The new libation was spicy and refreshing, and it was non-alcoholic. By the turn of the twentieth century every home ice box within a hundred miles of Detroit had a stash of Vernor’s Ginger Ale tucked away in the back, chilling near the remnant of last week’s block of ice.

FLASH FORWARD to 2015. The City of Detroit is in ruins. Buildings that have not crumbled on their own or been burnt down by riot and vandalism, are being demolished to make way for a new beginning. As a rotting old structure on McNichols Avenue collapses in a cloud of toxic dust, the side of its adjacent two-story neighbor building appears. The dust settles, and there, bathed in sunlight for the first time in nearly a century, stands a hand-painted mural in familiar colors. Boldly slashed across the yellow painted brick is the trademark green script:


Ginger Ale
Mellowed 4 Years in Wood

Missing is the Prohibition Era slogan: “It’s what we drink around here.”

Well, I thought the newspaper article was skimpy. So I went to the Vernor’s website. Not much better. Bloodless, superficial. Knowing too much history can be hell.

Oh, one more thing: In the Depression years and the War years, a popular mixed drink in the neighborhoods was called a “Boston cooler.” It was simple. A tall cold glass of Vernor’s with a scoop of vanilla ice cream – Stroh’s, of course. In the neighborhoods, it’s what they drank.





  1. Taylor, L.E., Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, FreesenPress, Victoria B.C., Canada, 2012.
  2. Vernor’s Ginger Ale: http://www.drpeppersnapplegroup.com/brands/vernors/
  3. ginger-ale
  4. Robert Allen, Detroit Free Press

Once There Was a Library ©2015

Part Two: The way of the world, by L.E. Taylor

CHARLIE BURNIE HAD BEEN a green U. S. Army infantryman in the bloody push across Europe in 1944. A decade later, during the ’54 summer session at Western Michigan College, he became an unlikely comrade in manhood with young Danny McRae.

The two were neither roommates nor classmates, but for six weeks, both lived in the quaint, musty old Vandercook Hall for men, a dormitory just down the road from the venerable campus Library.

The rubric of bull sessions in dorms is older than dorms, but the luxury of an older man imparting wit and wisdom to an appreciative young whelp is a joy mutually held. The buildings of yesteryear had no air conditioning – in Michigan none was missed until a relatively few ardent, or misguided, scholars arrived during the sultry dogdays of June and July. Danny cranked his casement windows wide and left his hall door open, all day and into the night. The result was something resembling a breeze. It was good enough.

Every evening and some balmy afternoons, Danny, in skivvies sans T-shirt, propped himself at the headboard of his Spartan bed, and he read. Conrad, Maugham, Poe, Hemingway, Eliot, and dozens of others on the list were his company – and sometimes his soporific. One afternoon, a gangly fellow (an old guy, at least thirty) poked his balding head in and said hi.

The guy was not intrusive, nor was he unctuous. He was just another summer grunt of no particular demeanor who blundered in, ordinary looking, but well-spoken. “Any idea where to get a schedule of the buses to the other campus?”

Danny told him where to look. They drifted into lively conversation, and in an hour were new buddies.

When Danny arrived next morning at the dorm coffee shop Charlie was already there, directing the elderly counter lady. “No, not the tea, dear, the creamer… there… no, dear, yes, that’s it.”

Danny noticed the patronizing “dear,” not as a condescension, but as a gentlemanly kindness. He would have said “ma’am.”

After dusk, these two odd fellows took to walking the sidewalks and pathways of this mid-American college movie-set. They talked and joked and commiserated.

Charlie was married, a junior high school teacher in a rural district. As many others, he was in summer session at this “normal” (i.e., teacher-training) college to accumulate hours toward his master’s degree.

Charlie talked. “When I was in undergrad school in Ohio Rachel was the hottest woman I ever had before or since. She was a nympho.”

“What’s a nympho?”

“A female who’s crazy about having sex. And I mean crazy.”

Danny picked up a stone from the darkening pavement and threw it at a No Parking sign. It rattled off the sign and into the night.

“We’d go up into the biology lab at night, and…”

“Who?” Danny asked. “You said, ‘we,’ who’s we?”

“Rachel! The nymphomaniac. We’d get into the biology lab at night and do it.”

“Do what? Where?”

It. On the tables, on the floor, standing up at the window while it snowed outside. She was the greatest” A beat. “She was Jewish.” Charlie sighed. “The greatest.”

They passed under a street lamp and Danny spied a nicely shaped rock. He wound up and cast it overhand deep into the night toward a STOP sign up the block. It reported, “Bang!”

“Will you stop doing that!” Charlie barked. Danny laughed, but accepted the rebuke. They walked along in silence. If Danny had been older he might have recognized Charlie’s crankiness for what it was. Charlie, the jaded veteran, world-weary before his time, was dreading middle age while Danny faced nothing but a young now that would never end. He lived in the moment.

“Did you ever get any medals in the War?” Danny asked.

Charlie shifted gears. “Yeah. One. It was nothing. It was a joke.”

“What happened?”

They walked. Charlie seemed distant. “It was stupid, like most of the boring crap in war.” Danny stayed quiet. “As the Germans retreated, they’d leave equipment and other shit to block the roadways. And they’d boobie-trap it.” Charlie’s voice had become a matter-of-fact monotone. “My platoon was advancing and we came to a big makeshift barrier… tree limbs and boards the krauts had dumped in the road. There were deep ditches on both sides, so we came to a halt. We just hunkered down. Nobody wanted to go out into the open and move it. They’d bury land mines, the Germans. We just sat there. Finally, I just got up and said oh the hell with this. I walked out on the road and dragged the blockade aside. That’s all.”

Danny was about to reply.

Charlie said, “I have to give an oral reading in my Speech class next week. No idea what to read. Any suggestions?”

“What kind of reading?” Danny asked.

“A dramatic reading.”

“Well the Bible’s out.” They laughed. Danny said, “How about the Richard the Second speech about England?”

“What’s that?

“Shakespeare. You know, ‘…this sceptered Isle, this blessed plot, this England!’ ”

Next day Danny and Charlie met at the Library’s front desk. The librarian asked how she might help. Charlie blurted out, “Where’s Willie-The-Shake?” Danny translated and they were led into the sacred darkness of The Stacks. The kind young woman handed a tome to Danny and with a wary glance at Charlie, said she’d be at the desk. They stood in the light of a leaded window and Danny read the passage aloud. Charlie stared at this kid, bemused, then he grinned, and pronounced it perfect.

One of Danny’s summer classes fulfilled a Phys-Ed requirement. He’d selected Life Saving. There were tougher places in July to plow through a three hour credit than the swimming pool. The class was indoors, rigorous, and had only eleven enrollees. They swam eight Olympic laps to begin each class, practiced thirty minutes of open water combat techniques, bare-handed (and bare-assed), and finally four lengths freestyle before exiting the pool.

The Natatorium was a five minute walk from the Library. Cool and relaxed from his Life Guard class, Danny arrived at his oasis once or twice a week, a book in hand. The Library was cooled by fans. Marble floors and walls served students in Kalamazoo as they did the Caesars and Plato. He flopped into his red leather chair in front of a big oscillating fan, and continued his education. One day, reading Pygmalion, Danny laughed out loud and people scowled. Although he did occasionally reference Mad Magazine, that day he was laughing at the outrageous stage directions of George Bernard Shaw.

August came. Danny took home his books and bits of knowledge not taught in the curriculum. His Red Cross Life-Saving patch (one of only two awarded) would go into a drawer. His mitt and spikes would be stored away, never to see action again until it was time to teach his own son the pain and pleasures of playing shortstop. The fall semester would quickly become 1955, and the race would be on.

* * *

A LIFETIME COULD BE a half century or it may be a moment immeasurable by an ordinary wall clock. Once you’ve lived it, and allow yourself to remember its narrative, its chapters are always “now.”

More than fifty years later Daniel, now a grandfather and a veteran of many skirmishes, still fit and sound, frequently visits a campus near his home in North Texas. He reads books in the shady quiet of the prairie heat and sometimes settles in at the Library to write and edit his own manuscripts.

One spring day, jogging through, he passes the Library. He stops. Walks back to the new sign. It reads, “Learning Center.” Vaguely uneasy, Daniel moves on. “I could have sworn that was once a Library.”




Once There Was a Library ©2015

Part One: A boy among men by L.E. Taylor

THE FIRST GLIMPSE Danny got of Western Michigan College was through the rolled down window of a yellow taxi he’d hired at the ancient stone railroad depot (ca.1864). The cabbie had immediately launched into a monologue about the loose ways and easy virtue of coeds. The lout knew all about it, he snortled – wild parties, washtubs of iced gin and rum and fruit juice, and…

Danny tuned out a creepy porn narrative, and concentrated on the quaint parks and churches of downtown Kalamazoo. The kid spoke only once, “How long before we get to the campus?”

In a few minutes, the cab turned off Oakland Avenue and, in second gear, began to climb a winding tree lined lane. At the top of the hill they passed between a brief succession of stately ivy clad halls. At the end of the short cul-de-sac the cabbie slowed and made a U-turn in front of a massive Greek-revival edifice. “That there’s the lye-barry,” he muttered.

The cab slowed to a halt before a bland two story structure designated Health Services Building. Danny paid the fellow and got out. He took a breath and strode up the walk, callow and empty-handed, to his fate.

Danny had been an indifferent high school student. His interests were narrowed to but a few. He was a natural draftsman and self-taught painter, so a major in art was appealing. A couple of years ago, at fifteen, the lad had discovered literature and history; then, apace, some aptitude for prose writing was kindled. Finally, he loved baseball: the meticulous crafting of skills the game demanded, the romance of its history, and the democracy of its solitary challenge on the field, a member of a team but alone.

Academic strengths suitable to each of the lad’s appetites were ascendant at this modest college tucked away in this modest town a long morning train ride from any big city. And Danny very nearly didn’t make it. Only a last minute call from his high school principal snagged him one chance – a longshot. Travel to the campus, now, in mid-August and endure a daylong college entrance exam. Whatever this place would proffer, it would certainly pose an antidote to a mind going fallow in the intellectual torpor of late adolescence.

His father had dropped him at the curb in front of Michigan Central Terminal twenty minutes before departure of the westbound ‘Chicago Limited’. He fidgeted and worried all the way past the whistle stops –

Ypsilanti… Ann Arbor… Battle Creek. The necktie was tight on this warm morning, and the polished shoes mocked him for the pretense they implied.

At a desk in the Health Services lobby, a dour matron searched her log and checked off Danny’s name. She said follow me.

A 24-page College Aptitude exam in one hand and a bouquet of sharpened yellow pencils in the other, Danny entered the bare testing room. A half-wall of hardwood paneling ended waist high and was continued in clear glass from ledge to ceiling. An ominous clock was the only accoutrement on the blank back wall. The woman closed the windowed door with a gentle, though decisive, click. (Had she locked it or was that his imagination?)

He would have three hours to finish. The woman said she would be back in two.

Danny sat at the oaken table on a hard slatted straight-back chair. He opened to Page One and dove in. He found himself calmly focused, energized, and viscerally engaged in the challenge of this self-audit. He was oddly at peace with the moment. Like stepping into a batter’s box to lead off a new game against a big, strong pitcher he’d never faced before. Danny didn’t know anything about testosterone, but he recognized that thrill he’d known on the playing field and in peril on the city streets and playgrounds. It concentrated his mind.

He arrived at page three of the booklet in only a few minutes (a single into left field). Hmm, he thought, this test isn’t so bad. He knew more than he knew.

Nearly half way through the booklet, Danny glanced up at the wall clock. Only fifty-five minutes had passed. He removed his jacket and loosened the knit tie. When the matron returned at the end of hour number two, Danny said he was almost done. She peered doubtfully over rimless spectacles and replied, “Check all your answers twice and come down to my desk.” The door was not locked.

* * *

THE COLLEGE HAD two campuses. This one, charmingly nestled at the top of a forested hill was the “Old Campus.” After The War many colleges doubled in size to handle returning veterans. The New Campus was a complex of male and female dormitories, multi-story classroom and administrative facilities, a tall glass-faced music building, and a serene non-sectarian chapel. The architecture was utilitarian, brick and glass boxes in the 1950’s style. There had been no time yet for new trees to rival those of the Old Campus.

While authorities scrutinized Danny’s test booklet in some Health Services sanctum, he set off to investigate both campuses. Walking was in his Scots Irish genes so the trudge downhill and across a great field to the New Campus one mile distant was a pleasure. On the lower level of the Administration Building, he discovered the College Book Store. Tee shirts, book binders, caps, all with the big gold “W”, shouted out to him: college! Oh Lord, no, he breathed; do I really want this? Am I up to it? For four years? Why?

In the course of the next ten months, his answers found him. The first answers were all yes. But, why? Because here was the fresh exciting new world he’d hungered for without knowing it.

Danny passed the entrance exam with a high score and arrived in September of 1953 with his tuition check for $190.00, a suitcase of sweaters and khaki pants, and his baseball glove and spikes.

The fall semester was packed with literature, composition, and history. Instruction by good teachers was inspired and inspiring. Christmas break was spent at home writing term papers, studying for mid-term exams, and reading from the extra-credit lists.

Back on campus for the second semester, Danny found a quiet winter’s refuge in that massive antique Library on the Old Campus. He discovered a couple of overstuffed maroon leather chairs placed before a fireless hearth in the building’s great hall. At least one chair was always unoccupied. He read… snoozed… read some more. And he thought.

Veterans of two wars were everywhere among the student body. Older than Danny by up to a decade, they projected a confident worldliness. They showed an appreciation for studies that came with having seen violent death and the coarse sinfulness of men – and having escaped the grasp of at least one of these. They smoked cigarettes and drank beer off campus. And they studied earnestly.

To pal around with guys who’d been dogfaces under fire was an unexpected gift. He’d known a few vets during summer work back home, but those louts were more like the cab driver from the train station last August. These fellows were more like Danny, eager to learn, and ready to frisk like colts, but they were men. They had an experienced perspective that showed. Danny enjoyed them and soaked it up.

Most veterans were enrolled in pre-professional studies – med, biz, education. Still in their twenties, they’d escaped with their lives, but at the cost of their youth. The older survivors had come home to jobs and pre-war careers left hanging. Some of these older freshmen were married. That showed, too.

One day Danny went downtown and bought a pipe and a pouch of tobacco. A couple of cold nights later, he strolled up to the Old Campus. In the shadows next to the Library, he packed the fat bole of his new toy, clamped down on the stem, and struck a match. Puff, puff, inhale. Cough, puff. A breath of frigid wind caught the sweet fruity smoke, played with it, and blew it back into Danny’s face. Delicious. Danny walked the Old Campus sidewalks in thought, puffing robustly and feeling manly. The dizziness crept in slowly and unexpected; in the shrubs on the majestic old library’s dark side, his dinner came up. Also unexpected.

Two semesters of Elementary Design, Art History, World History, Rhetoric, Composition, Comparative Arts, and ROTC drills jostled for a new home in his young brain. Danny approached the end of the school year changed. Though his worldview was still far from seasoned, his sensibilities had been seduced. He put away his mitt and spikes carefully. And his pipe. The idea of a long summer of idleness or grunt-work seemed unthinkable.

He looked over the academic requirements for the coming sophomore year and decided a six week stint in summer session would be a smart move. And maybe fun.

Little did he know.




Love in Longhand ©2015

Remembering the important things by L.E.Taylor

MICHAEL KAZINSKI HAD ONLY a half semester to go before high school commencement. But that old demon, procrastination, had him facing the final semester two credit hours short. Back in his sophomore year, he’d drifted into an “Incomplete” for one semester of English Grammar. Then he had to choose between a six week make-up class in summer school and playing American Legion sandlot ball. No contest.

Mike was attentive enough in English Lit and History, but abstract rules and numbers set his mind wandering. So, he’d made up only a couple of hours along the way, and now he was a Class of 1942 senior peering at stark, by-the-numbers, reality.

Mr. Walsh, the boy’s counsellor, a grizzled old-time catcher himself, was sympathetic. He searched for a way that Michael might pay his deficit with the least effort. He found it in an obscure Tuesday and Thursday drill designed for pre-business underclassmen: Penmanship.

Mike was ill at ease and self-conscious among this class of mostly girls. The subject was so simple, it embarrassed him. Supplies were rudimentary. An enameled wooden pen with a cork grip at the business end, a tiny matchbox of silver teardrop shaped nibs, and a thick pack of three-holed lined writing paper in a plain loose leaf binder completed the kit. A built-in inkwell was kept full at each desk courtesy of the Detroit Board of Education. (The nibs were to be dipped into ink only up to the tiny eyelet and must not be pressed so hard while writing as to splay the point, ruining it.)

This is nuts, Mike thought. I know how to write! But two hours a week was what it would take, and that is what he was going to give. The textbook was The Palmer Method. Its purpose seemed to assure that all students would end the term with exactly the same handwriting style, none distinct from any other. Not very American, if you asked Mike.

After the second day of class, Mike was hungry and thirsty and grumpy as he collected his gear at the end of the long, long hour. He stretched out his back muscles and growled the big sigh of a caged beast.

“You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself,” came a soft sympathetic voice from somewhere.

Mike looked around. The girl across the aisle hugged some books and a pale blue loose leaf binder to her soft gray-sweatered bosom. The hint of a smile came to her lips and a fetching sparkle to her eyes.

“No. I guess not,” Mike blurted in someone else’s high, husky voice. “I, I just…”

“You already know how to write, eh?” She smiled, though not unkindly. Her dark auburn hair was straight and long down her back. It framed a comely oval face. The eyes were crystal blue.


“So…?” the girl breathed. The classroom was nearly empty.

A pause. Mike gathered up his stuff and jammed it awkwardly into his own binder, and his pockets, and behind his ears. A beat (an instant – maybe an hour), something amazing happened. Amazing and new “So, uh, I… I, I’m Mike,” he grinned

“Karen,” she laughed. “See-ya, Mike.”

They drifted their own ways, until next Tuesday.

Over the next three weeks, Michael Kazinski’s penmanship improved remarkably. He could hardly wait for two-o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He focused on his capitalization and keeping his lower case vowels open. He always arranged two sheets of paper, perfectly aligned, onto his desk at the prescribed exact 45 degree angle. Holding the left-top edge with his left hand, he wrote his name and the date top-right, and carefully inscribed the day’s exercises with well-rounded form but no fancy flourishes, within the pale blue lines of each top sheet. The exercise accomplished, he would blot the page, slip it into his binder, and replace it with a fresh virgin page.

One day, he passed a note to Karen.

They began to meet at the Alger Theater on Friday evenings, have a chocolate soda at the corner drug store, and Mike would walk Karen home.

In June, they double-dated to the prom. Commencement went by in a blur, then Mike was on his way to the Marine Corps. For three months, Mike wrote every day, mailed the letters once a week.

Dear Kar,
I’ll be done with boot camp in August. Will be back in Detroit about the 17th. Then it’s out to the action. Can’t say where. Need to speak with you and your folks before I ship out. Sorry about the penmanship – I’m in a hurry to make the mail grab.
All my love,

Karen’s mom and dad said yes, and Godspeed. The wedding was a family thing at the parish chapel. The honeymoon was two days in a clapboard cottage on the beach at Saugatuck.

In the Second War postal service between the armed forces and the home front carried a high priority. It was called “V-Mail.” With millions of Americans sending and receiving on both ends worldwide, the sheer weight had to be reduced. Standard letters were to be written on flimsy pale blue self-envelopes, one side. The service personnel “outgoing” was all vetted and censored by the brass, then sealed and posted via APO.

Mike and Karen used a lot of V-Mail.

Well into 1944, Corporal Michael Kazinski trudged wearily to the shady side of a palm tree and flopped to the sand. In a hubbub all about him, the Seabees bulldozed iron-black earth while work details buried bodies. The stench of diesel fuel and smoldering death-rot got into the nostrils and the pores. Tanks churned the volcanic sand on their way right and left, to nowhere, while non-coms shouted angry orders to no one.

Mike removed his helmet and plunked it into the black sand between his feet, dome side up. He found his V-Mail folder in the knapsack and pulled out a clean sheet of GI stationery. He wiped sweaty grime off calloused fingertips onto his olive drab t-shirt, held the flimsy paper to the steel helmet at a 45 degree angle, and began to write.

My dearest Karen, The landing went as expected, no better but no worse. I’m sweating in the shade of a coconut palm, filthy and with 3 days beard. Suddenly I’m reminded of our last day together on the white sands of Lake Michigan. Writing to you now, my dear love, I am there again. How beautiful you are! In fact writing to you is my only escape from the unholy madness of war. I am delighted to know that little Anthony is healthy and in the safe keeping of your Mom & Dad, and of his amazing beautiful mother. Excuse the sloppy handwriting. I’m tired and in a hurry. Will write again soon – maybe tomorrow. All my love forever, with a big un-Palmer flourish…ha ha.

Your Mike

Mike never felt the sniper bullet. Anthony never knew his father, except, years later, by what he could read into his ghost-hero’s handsome, forever-young, penmanship.




Ah, To Be Jung Again. ©2015

Reconsidering my mid-life quest, by L.E. Taylor

A COUPLE OF DECADES AGO I found myself in a writer’s workshop on the high mesa outside Taos New Mexico. (I didn’t mean to start out with a pun, but there it is.) At the time, I wasn’t aware I was “finding myself,” but those five days did prompt an eventual change of course in my Middle American, middle-brow journey.

A whole series of coincidences led to that good moment. And to this one.

The class instructor was a remarkable soul by the name of Pierre Delattre (Deh-lot-truh). You probably don’t recognize the name, but that’s no reflection on you. Or Pierre. But once, it was different.

In the years I was struggling to make my way as a freelance ad man in the Midwest, Pierre was already established in the volatile bohemian neighborhoods of San Francisco. It was the 1960s and he was at the chaotic center of all the political and social drama. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Pierre was dubbed by Time Magazine, “The Beatnik Priest of San Francisco”. His notable autobiographical books are Walking On Air and Tales of a Dalai Lama.

My most admired of his works, however, is a collection called Episodes, a copy of which he inscribed to me.

But that came thirty years later when our paths would finally cross briefly, on the high table-land of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Pierre’s one week writing-drill was rich in wisdom beyond tips on prose writing. Among his insights was the notion that our individual lives are patchworks of stories informed by experience – much of it ironic and improbable. He used a term I had heard, but never paid much attention to: Synchronicity. He gave examples in his own life of stunningly abrupt intersections of events, good fortune, and answered prayers.

As a young expatriate, Pierre was once marooned with his family in the impoverished backcountry of Mexico, flat broke with no way to get home. Contracted to write a novel, but battling a writer’s block, he finds himself absorbed with the abstract idea of “balance.” His fictional story is to be set in a circus, but he’s hit a wall. What does he know about the circus? At one critical moment of despair, a stranger arrives at his front door. Pierre writes this fragment in Episodes:

“Hi, I’m Carlos. I hear you’re writing a circus novel. I was a juggler in a circus for five years.” [Carlos] took me home; his whole family juggled for me. Carlos gave me a rare book on the mysticism of juggling.

Pierre quickly completes his manuscript and ships it off to his publisher. Soon, a check for his advance comes just in time to save the family. “We were down to our last peso,” he wrote.

THE BEGINNING OF MY OWN first novel came in the late nineties. Financially rewarded as a corporate marketing consultant, I was nonetheless, spiritually drained by the arid monotony of joyless striving. Also, the cash flow was waning. One chill gray morning I retreated into one of our vacant offices and, to excuse my need for solitude, I decided to learn how to use our strange new Apple word processor. I advised my assistant, and closed the door.

Averse to writing anything on my to-do list, I flashed on a morsel of family lore. Working from memory and embellishing as I went, I got caught up in the narrative. The next day I discovered I’d written not a short story; but “Chapter One.” For three years, amidst financial distress and personal sorrows, I journeyed every night into the past for hours, virtually taking dictation from an angel on my shoulder. The result was my 460 page novel, Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga.

My occupation, since completing that book, has evolved into a special calling. Unexpectedly, I now find reward helping people of earlier generations reclaim their own rich nuggets of days past. My role is to share with them what I learned crafting my true stories. I coach them to capture their treasures with care, as a worthy legacy for others. The workshops are called Great Family Storytelling. Students are guided to not only remember, but also to write their tales in prose, as polished as they have the will to muster. I am not easy on them. The result for both student and family is the joy that comes with a strict labor of love, well done.

Synchronicity is not the fever-dream of some New Age yogi; it is the clinical inspiration of one of the great minds of psychiatry, Carl Jung. A Swiss disciple of the Viennese icon Sigmund Freud, Jung considered himself a scientist. His work has made a powerful impact on our notions of how the brain works. Much in the field that we take for granted originated with Carl Jung: the conscious and the unconscious, the phenomena of personality types, and how to explain synchronicity.

As he studied, Jung kept his mind open and did not dismiss the meaning of primal symbolism, or the possibility of multiple lives of one spirit (reincarnation). But, perhaps the most controversial of his obsessions was the bizarre coincidences in ordinary lives that are both timely and uncannily apt – the phenomenon he termed “synchronicity”.

Last week, I got an unexpected note from a former student on the topic of coincidence. She said she doesn’t believe in dumb coincidence; she thinks there’s an energy that surrounds us and influences us. Our life is full of opportunity and clues to light our Way; all we have to do is pay attention and respond. Some call it the Holy Spirit.

That’s when I remembered my old mentor Pierre, snoozing for decades in my subconscious. I went to the wall of books in my writer-cave. There, high-up, I found it, Episodes, by Pierre Delattre. I’d never read it all the way through, so riffled the pages for a moment. A word caught my eye, I backtracked. At the top of page 147, a one word title: “Synchronicity.”

OUR GIFT OF LIFE is designed to be more than a mindless slog from birth to death. It is a cavalcade of opportunities to conjure with and learn from, even as we wrestle with the earthly sojourn. Another pastor, this one half a lifetime ago at my home church in Ann Arbor, drummed the same mantra: Choose Life!

Consider this: You needn’t be a counter-culture rebel nor an arty mystic to grab your hold on the Truth, and then to share your joy with others. Just pay attention, trust what you see, and then follow; maybe the answers, after all, are hidden in the problems.





  1. Delattre, Pierre; Episodes; Gray Wolf Press, Saint Paul, MN; 1993.
  2. Taylor, L. E.; Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga; FreisenPress; Vancouver B.C., Canada; 2012.
  3. Carl Jung, www.wikipedia.com
  4. Synchonicity, www.wikipedia.com
  5. [Author]; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; [pub. Info.]; 1973.
  6. Murphy, Dr. Joseph; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; Prentice-Hall; Paramus, NJ; 1963.

Ahoy, Lads! ©2015

All at sea in my mind, a boyhood reflection by L.E.Taylor

A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO, I had cause to reflect on lives lived and now over.

A week earlier, I’d received the Ancestry.com report on my personal DNA analysis. It concluded that my lineage goes back to the British Isles (I know), Scandinavia (Vikings and all that), Central Europe (sauerkraut, beer, Lutherans), and traces of Mediterranean mischief.

That last one got me thinking. Not very hard, of course, just musing. Then a spiritualist friend of mine teased me with a tidbit of news: She claimed I’d lived before, died young, had been a sixteenth century Italian, and a seventeenth century Irishman. A writer both times. Okay, relax; I’m no mystic, and only gullible to the extent that my creative work leans toward the romantic. But, as I said, it got the wheels turning. I am, after all, a writer.

I set about crafting a fictional tale using the far-fetched nudges I’d just received, both the scientific and the supernatural. My imagined story would begin with the near-drowning of a young Latin (?) sailor off the Coast of Ireland in the storm-tossed sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Got it? Okay, more on that another time. For now…

My boyhood during the Second World War was lived in my birth place of Detroit – and summer-times, with my great aunt in an old house on Lake St. Clair in Ontario, Canada.

Most Americans are unacquainted with the upper Midwest. They think of farm lands and smoky crowded cities, dark skies, snow and cold. But Michigan is a maritime state. The water is fresh, not salty, but it is deep and broad and wild in its storms of both winter and summer. Half of the state is water. Michigan’s two peninsulas are defined by massive fresh water inland seas. Michigan has over three thousand miles of coastline, more than any other state but Alaska.

In most states the 12 mile wide Lake St. Clair would be considered a “great” lake. In the chain of seas called The Great Lakes, it is just a wide place on the strait between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Impressive, dangerous, deep enough to have an international shipping channel, but, alas, not a Great Lake.

It seems I’ve always been drawn to the big water.

One summer day in my eleventh year in Detroit, I pulled on my Buster Brown clod-hoppers and set out from my home; I would walk until I came to the “river.” What did I know? Not much. But the water beckoned. I was actually walking to the lake. I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t even think to tie my shoe laces.

The trek was eight miles. One way. Presently, I saw the lake, looked at it for a minute or so, thought about my Auntie Kane over the horizon in Canada, and headed homeward. I was tired, thirsty and hungry. When I arrived back at 5770 Harvard Road my heels were bloody and I knew a little more about the geography of my universe.

That same year, with fall still weeks away, a couple of lads came around on a sunny day to recruit boys into the Sea Scouts of America. They were teenagers, what we called “big boys.” Handsome, blond, uniformed, and energetic. I was impressed and entranced with the idea of sailing the lakes, but I was small-fry, they were not good recruiters, and they moved on. I was left with my dream of sea adventure aground.

Preparing to write my fictional story this week, I researched the sinking of the Armada. Then I found myself reading all about sailing craft, rigging, architecture, nomenclature, history.

Today, patient reader, if I were as young as I was then, and as wonderfully smart as I am now, I would make learning to sail wind-driven boats a serious ambition. I’d start with dinghies, then I’d learn (and earn) my way up to a sloop or a ketch. If I hadn’t the wealth to own my own craft (unlikely, if I really wanted it), I would hire onto a crew and ply the seas as a blue water mariner.

Not yet into the actual writing of my fantasy, suddenly it dawned on me that such was exactly the route taken by my Uncle Bill. My mother’s kid sister, Helen had married Bill Barber, her high school beau. They married right before Pearl Harbor. His wartime adventure as skipper of a sailing craft in the South Seas is acknowledged briefly in my book, Elgan and Grace. – A Twentieth Century Saga (pp, 309-311).

Bill Barber and I were brothers of the soul. We sparred occasionally because we were nothing alike except in spirit. My father, himself a restless fugitive from the Kentucky coalmines, was far more like Uncle Bill than he, a self-made businessman (not a wandering seadog), would admit. Like all the characters in my book – or for that matter, anyone’s book – both were flawed. But Bill’s calling to be a mariner, specifically a sailor, whatever that would mean in sacrifice of bourgeois refinements, was true and impervious to reproach.

Now, in the autumn of my years, I view the course of life organically. Whether as sailor or surgeon, merchant or magistrate, poet or preacher. The calling to engage with life feeds a certain readiness of soul, I think, and may be more than a vagabond wanderlust. It’s the affinity for challenge – of intellect, sinew, spirit, and courage.

All vocations may not be equal on the scales of Providence. Self-indulgently, for the moment, I just write stuff that may amuse you.





  1. Taylor. L.E., Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, FreisenPress, Vancouver B.C., Canada, 2012. www.ElganAndGrace.com.
  2. Hostellers Sailing Club (Australia) – www.btinternetr.com/~sail/cruising.htm
  3. www.Ancestry.com

Flunking Your Way to Success,
Part Two ©2015

Another true tale of error and winning, by L.E. Taylor

THE SOUTHEASTERN HIGH SCHOOL baseball field was not in the young ballplayer’s neighborhood. It was the usual 1950s Detroit sandlot – dirt infield, no fences, just a green-stubble outfield that went forever, cut through right-to-left by a street about 400 feet from home plate. He was more nervous than usual. The bleachers were crowded with loud, hostile fans of the Mudcats, the home team.

The young man was leadoff batter for the Rockets. He started the game with a walk from a tough-looking pitcher whose pitches were as wild as they were deadly fast. The boy stole second right away to settle his nerves, and there he remained while the next three Rocket batters all fanned to end the top of the inning. He jogged over to his nearby place at shortstop, took the warmup grounders from first baseman Dave Benner, and managed to toss each of the two practice throws back within reach of Dave’s big mitt without embarrassment.

He could field anything that was hit within a three-step sprint of his place on the field. But his young throwing arm was undisciplined. Fear pumped adrenaline into his muscles; the ball could end up anywhere.

The next four innings bore out his reputation for throwing errors, and the Mudcats were up 2-1 on two unearned runs. Now the kid stepped into the batter’s box for his third at bat with two out and the bases empty. Amidst taunting hoots and catcalls he blinked at the big hurler. He was rattled and unfocused. He took the first pitch, a dazzling strike that snapped like a pistol shot into the catcher’s mitt.

The hooligans behind home plate screamed with cruel delight – Romans in the Coliseum. He took a deep breath, and swung smartly at the next pitch; it shot back foul into the screen. Along with that second strike came two flashes of good luck: First, the kid realized he’d seen the pitch well and timed it perfectly, but had swung under the ball, missing by only a fraction of an inch; and second, the gaggle of Mudcat fans went nasty – and personal. “Dat’s yer hit, shorty… woo-hooo, siddown, you stink…” It got up his gorge. And focused his mind.

The boy stepped out of the box, scooped up a handful of clay dust and rubbed his hands together. He glanced over a shoulder into the eyes of his tormentors. He did not look at his father who sat on the Rockets’ bench keeping the official score book. He did not look into the bleachers for his mother or his brother or aunt and uncle who attended his games each Sunday.

He shifted attention and engaged the pitcher. The pitcher’s hands caressing the ball. The pitcher’s angry sideways stance. The pitcher’s eyes. Without looking away, the boy took his place in the box, tapped the plate, and drew an imaginary trajectory of the same pitch this Mudcats’ bum had been firing all afternoon. The pitcher wound up and the ball came like lightning.

The crack of the bat was that sweet, clean sound every old time baseball lover knows as the music of the game.

He darted from the batter’s box. Sprinting past first base, a quick glance toward center field revealed the tiny dot that was the back of the rival outfielder; he was crossing the street where a fence would have been in any respectable American stadium. The boy gritted his teeth and sped. Rounding third now, still at his best scamper speed, breath labored, he circumnavigated his own dumbfounded manager whose fervor had taken the man well homeward, out of the coach’s box, though still away from the sacred base path. Just fifty feet ahead the boy saw the other team’s catcher and pitcher in disarray, both blocking the plate. Evidently a throw was on its way from the cutoff man. The kid thought the heck with this, no way am I gonna slide. He raced past them at full speed and collided with the backstop screen.

His dad had dropped the score pad and joined with the rest of the Rockets to embrace his young hero.

In a year, the young man went on to college and later to a self-employed career in business. He never reached his dream of playing professional baseball, of course. But he never forgot the hot July Sunday he learned to not let his weaknesses block him from performing to the best of his strengths. And to use his brain to drive his performance, unhindered by emotions.




Foot notes:

  • What happened then? Well, next inning, the Rockets again fell behind on a throwing error by their shortstop. But they retook the lead on a homerun by first baseman Dave Benner. The final out of the game was on a cleanly fielded ground ball to the Rockets shortstop who set himself calmly and to the relief of all, fired a strike into Dave’s trusty-dusty mitt. –LET
  • Next time, Part Three –The Lesson.

Flunking Your Way to Success,
Part One ©2015

Thoughts on the perfection myth, by L.E. Taylor

ANOTHER EMAIL JUST ARRIVED from LinkedIn, the social network for career-bent strivers. This one carried an invitation to join with several of my “contacts” in a niche organization that many of them had found simpatico. In the margin was a conversation-starter question:

“What have you learned from failing?”

Notice the question did not refer to “failure.” The sponsoring group is Professional Women’s Network. The inference I was pleased to draw was that these are vocationally successful persons. They see failing as an incidental flashpoint. Otherwise, the term might well have been ‘failure,’ which connotes the act of failing not as an event, but as a habit, implying a chronic condition.

The time-worn axiom about penury comes to mind: Being broke is a temporary predicament; being poor is a frame of mind. Each signals a different impulse in given individuals: to take action or to curl up.

After one calamitous laboratory accident, a 30-ish Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter if he was discouraged having failed so many times. Edison replied cheerfully that he was, in fact, exhilarated; now he knew ninety-six things that didn’t work.

We all know at least one pet thing that doesn’t work. But in spite of the evidence, many of us stubbornly flail away at the old horse carcass without objectively adjusting assumptions. That isn’t perseverance, it’s knuckle-headedness.

But back to the business network question.

In the booming decade after World War II, peacetime spawned a quality of life previously undreamed of for most American households. Evidence of self-satisfaction soon appeared in the quaint form of an annual practice called the Christmas letter. It was usually a single typewritten page, neatly folded and inserted into each outgoing Christmas card. The narrative was a glowing report on the blessings of success, harmony, and fulfillment enjoyed by each haloed member of the extraordinary clan.

Big John’s new promotion got top billing. Mildred’s domestic talents and selfless volunteer work kept the four-bedroom dream house snug and perfect for the amazing, above average exploits of all – e.g., the State U. scholarship freshman Jack (Jr.), the baton twirling champion Susan, the adorably funny twins Lloyd and Floyd, spry forgetful Grandma Em, and even Rufus the aging sheepdog-Corgi mix who guarded the suburban model home though asleep..

Human nature being what it is, the impact upon mortal readers was predictable. No recipients who glance up from a letter of such glad tidings to view the chaos of their own domestic battleground were fooled.

In the real world there are no painless successes.

Facebook is something like that: Weekly close up snapshots of a chicken salad and a terse caption that once again Heather is having lunch with her doting, faithful hubby at TGI Friday’s becomes cloying. A quick e-blast that bachelor pal Randy is heading for yet another vacation on the beaches of Cancun seems to have no point (What, already?! Didn’t that just happen last month?).

Myriad variations on such pedestrian narcissism is summed up nicely in the neologism, “selfie”. Seldom are friends informed meaningfully by this stuff. Nor are fringe surfers rewarded with honest joy. And the robotic response of chirpy network chums is even more banal than the fluffed-up initial posting.

Scanning LinkedIn, however, I catch a whiff of substance. More than idle bragging, there resonates in these exchanges a sense of purpose. Self-promotion, sure. So what? (If not by you, then who?) Individuals are actually trying to accomplish things. They are living mobile business lives – upwardly, laterally, or maybe in a circle, but they aren’t just sitting there ‘liking’ each other. It’s about work.

So, I’m all for it. Yes, my capitalist sisters, if you’ll have me as a brother-in-arms auxiliary of the Professional Women’s Network, I’m in. Maybe we can do something to help each other, even if only by encouragement or offering grief-saving tips on what works and what is fool’s gold. Come, sit here by me – wise, harmless old Uncle Larry.

I don’t have to wear a red hat, do I?




Next time:
Part Two: 3 common failures and their lessons