New Story Collection

From fireworks on the 4th of July through a surprising streetcar ride and a troublesome gang to an unusual honeymoon and a haunted house, the six tales in Old Time Stories delight and entertain. This collection also includes a dozen nonfiction pieces about the real people and places that inspired Juliet Kincaid to write her historical Calendar Mystery series that tells the story of business girl Minty Wilcox and detective Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

Here’s a review of “Lost Dog,” a prequel story to the Calendar Mystery series that features business girl Minty Wilcox. “What a delight to find myself in ‘old’ Kansas City again with such wonderfully drawn characters. I feel I know them and would love to follow them along the street while looking for the lost dog’s owner and I could just push that old neighbor back into the bushes after rescuing the poor dog from her vicious beating. Oh, this author brings them so alive and that is what keeps me reading her stories.”

Old Time Stories, a collection of fiction and nonfiction by Juliet Kincaid, is now available for you to pre-order, for only $0.99 as a digital file for a short time only at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5

 

 

 

Summer Camp

My daughter and I still have a home phone in addition to our cells, but Jess has fully employed the “Caller Blocked” function. Besides that, we keep the sound off unless we’re expecting a call from the plumber, for instance. So we rarely hear the phone ring. Occasionally, a man starts talking to us out of the blue from the phone, but we know it’s the machine from the pharmacy telling our machine a prescription is ready “for Juliet” or “for Jessica.”

But a few weeks ago, a woman’s voice started talking from the phone, a rarity in itself. So I scampered to the phone, snatched it out of the cradle, and said, “Hello. Hello. I’m here.” The caller turned out to be a woman I’d probably last seen maybe around sixty-five years ago at Marshall University. But I’d known her longer than that because when we were around thirteen, we were in the same confirmation class at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Huntington, WV. We also later became somewhat related, when my brother Dale married Gloria’s cousin Carole. But after college we lost touch with each other. In time, Gloria Moeser became Gloria Noll and Jet Willman became Juliet Kincaid. Here’s Gloria in her college yearbook. And here I am in mine a year later.

For several summers in the fifties Gloria, I and a bunch of other kids from St. Paul’s went to summer camp together. After my dad and mom got the first car I remember them having, a cute little blue and white, Chevy two-door, Daddy drove us. The rest of the time the place was Camp Caesar, a 4H camp, but during two weeks every June, Lutheran youth from all over the state converged on this place way up in the mountains in Webster County and it became Camp Luther.

Going through some old photos, Gloria came upon a cache of snapshots that she’d taken a couple of those years we went to camp. She also had carefully recorded the names of those pictured and where the pictures were taken. Gloria remembered how much fun my dad was and how he let us sing on the way there and back. She even remembered one of our camp songs and sang it to me on the phone all the way through. Amazing. The best I can do is get part of the way through “Kumbaya.”

I do remember dancing like Anna and the King of Siam around and around the gym in the arms of a guy whose name I’ve forgotten now as we sang, “Shall we dance? Ta tum ta tum.” (Just watched the clip from The King and I with Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr. OMG! Be still my heart.) One year I did have a boyfriend, sort of. We walked around camp hand in hand or sat side by side in rocking chairs on the porch of the main building. We never kissed though. His name was Hank and he was a sweetie.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the pictures Gloria later mailed me. Here are some of them.

The one on the left is from 1956. I’m on the left with the cute cat’s eyes glasses and longish hair. I’m holding one of those lanyards we made at camp back then. The girl in the middle is Carol Richards and on the right is Nancy Heinsohn, who also was in our confirmation class.

The shot on the right, from 1957, shows Nancy and me acting up with a couple of girls I don’t recall at all. Same glasses, but that year I got my hair cut just after the recital, so it would grow out by the next year and I could put it up in a proper bun as my dance teacher Mrs. Nestor required.

Here’s another picture of Nancy and me. The camp site had lots of rocks and a fairly rugged terrain. I still have the scar on my right shin from when I tried to climb a boulder half the size of a house. At camp we also went swimming, played soft ball, studied the Bible of course, and sang “Kumbaya” and other songs around the camp fire.

Good times. Good times. What sorts of fun things did you do in the summers of your youth or right now for that matter?

 

 

FREE MYSTERY SHORT

Two Birthdays

An Old Kansas City Story

The office door opening that afternoon startled Minty Wilcox and she almost looked up to see who it was. But then she thought, I’d better keep my head down and look busy. It won’t do for Mr. Mathison to catch me reading a mystery novel when I’m supposed to be hard at work. Indeed, George Mathison, the manager of the Kansas City branch of the Price Investigations Agency, was quite strict about the office staff keeping busy, especially Minty, the newest member of the staff.

Not that there was much work to do at the moment, no one there to take dictation from, no operative reports to type, no papers to file.

Still, Minty closed the black book, a favorite of hers that she liked to reread that time of year, and hid it in her top desk drawer. After that, she began typing furiously at her ancient blind-strike Remington typewriting machine. As a precaution earlier, she’d loaded a blank piece of paper in the typewriter. A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, she typed. A quick . . .

“Where’s Mrs. B?” a man asked.

After Minty lifted her hands from the keyboard and looked up, her heart started going pitty pat.

For instead of George Mathison, Daniel Price, one of the agency operatives, stood in the open door. A young man of medium height, he wore a straw boater, a white shirt with a black straight tie knotted under its stiff collar, a white vest, and white trousers.

“Oh, Dan . . .” Minty caught herself in time. Mr. Mathison was ever so strict about employees maintaining proper decorum. He had also forbidden employees to fraternize with each other during business hours—or at any time, for that matter. It certainly wouldn’t do for the agency’s most newly hired employee to err in that respect.

“Why, Mr. Price,” Minty said. “Mrs. Bradford took the afternoon off. She said she had an important errand to run.”

Daniel Price took off his hat and ran his hand over his reddish brown hair, parted in the middle. His neatly trimmed beard and mustache were also reddish brown. “Golly,” he said. “I really need someone to help me.” He closed the door behind himself and hung his boater on the coat tree next to Minty’s parasol.

“I’m sorry that Mrs. Bradford isn’t here,” Minty said. “Is it something I might help you with?” Minty stood up, went around her desk, and took a couple of steps toward the door.

“Perhaps.” He brushed his beard. “You see. I have an appointment with Mr. Ferd Heim, Jr. at the brewery across town.” Daniel fumbled with the gold chain that crossed his vest and pulled out his pocket watch along with a couple of keys.

Minty looked down at her pendant watch at the end of a light chain and pinned to the front of her shirtwaist, white with garnet red pin stripes. She flipped her watch over and read the time. “Why, it’s already half past four.”

“And my appointment with Mr. Heim is for five o’clock. Well, you will have to do, Miss Minty.”

 

And so Daniel Price lures Minty Wilcox off on a case that starts to sound strangely familiar as he tells her about it and she wonders what he really is up to.

Click here to get “Two Birthdays” for FREE from June 20 through June 24: www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

My Father’s Gardens

While working on a prequel story for my calendar mystery series called “The Barn Door” that takes place on the 4th of July weekend in 1898, I decided to give one of the characters a vegetable garden. And that led me to think about my dad and his gardens.

My father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., used to say, “When the Corps hired me, they took a great farmer and made him into a half-assed engineer.”

Still, though he worked over twenty years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, my father always had a garden if only three strips around the patio. Until his last summer, he grew at least a little something, maybe vibrant begonias, a geranium in a big pot, a climbing rose, possibly hollyhocks, usually mint so he could watch the telecast of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May with an icy julep in hand. And always, always, he had a tomato plant or two.

Back in the fifties and sixties, the prime years of his backyard gardens, he put lots of effort into his tomatoes. We lived in the tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia where winters were mild (though Dad always hoped for some snow to put nitrogen into the dirt). After the ground warmed and softened along about Easter, Dad took his shovel out to his garden patch to prepare the soil.

My mom used to kid my dad about “digging to China” because to him preparation meant digging a pit eighteen inches across and three feet deep for each tomato plant. He partially refilled each hole with compost, manure and other nourishing substances mixed with loose dirt.

The newly planted tomato plants–named Big Boy, Better Boy, Early Boy and Rutgers–looked scrawny so far apart, their sparse leaves insufficient to fuel growth. They did grow though. Usually by the Fourth of July, Dad would push aside those leaves, releasing the acrid odor that set our stomachs to growling, and with a gentle tug, pick the first tomato of the season. Mom, Dad, my brother Dale, and I fought over that first tomato, so ripe the skin peeled off clean and biting the tongue with its acidity. By late summer, the plants, lovingly tied to their stakes with strips of old sheet, stood eight feet high and loaded with tomatoes Mom canned, made juice with or begged neighbors to haul away.

Maybe the secret of Dad’s tomatoes lay in his compost pile that he researched, built and maintained like a true engineer. The compost pile I remember best was a four-foot cube of vegetable peels and melon rinds, musty grass clippings, twigs, lime, and goat manure he got as partial payment for a ship model he built for a friend who owned a herd of goats.

Dad made a hole in the center of the compost pile so air got inside and furthered the controlled decay. Once, out of curiosity, he tied some string to a thermometer and lowered it into the hole. In less than a minute, the thermometer broke. Later, with Mom’s candy thermometer, Dad discovered that the compost pile had reached 135 degrees.

Usually, Dad scaled his gardens small, but back in the late forties when we lived in the aptly named Garden Court, he almost filled the back yard with his vegetable plot. Forty by sixty feet, it ran from the house back almost to the tree-lined creek. Pieces of string stretched between sticks defined the plot so meticulously it looked like Dad had laid the garden out with a surveyor’s transit.

Dad bragged about that garden having fifty different varieties of plants. They included tomatoes of course, potatoes, corn, green peppers, red peppers, scallions, onions, cucumbers, and Black-seeded Simpson leaf lettuce. Instead of cantaloupe, that Dad said didn’t prosper in our climate, he grew muskmelons. Radishes started the growing season and beets finished it. Many of the vegetables I’ve forgotten now, but I still love to recite exotic names like zucchini, kohlrabi, and cocazelle.

We all got involved in Dad’s gardens. One year we had so much cabbage that Mom canned it. Dad paid Dale a penny a hundred head to pick bugs and beetles out of the garden. Dad never let me forget that those pretty yellow hollyhocks I picked one year were actually squash blossoms. Once, we tried to shell tough-hulled soybeans by putting them through Mom’s washer wringer. The beans popped out the other side and Dale and I chased them as they bounced around the kitchen floor.

My father’s gardens . . . Whenever I think of them, I see a picture of him in my mind.

Small-boned, with a mustache, my father wears a billed cap to keep his scalp from burning, a tan shirt dark with sweat under the arms, tan pants cut off and neatly hemmed above his knobby knees, and muddy shoes too worn to wear to work anymore. He leans against a shovel stuck into a pile of dirt. And dreaming of fresh tomatoes by the Fourth of July, he grins.

Happy Father’s Day 2018, Daddy

I don’t have a picture of my dad in his gardening togs, but here’s one of him, taken around 1973 when he was 70, that shows his wonderful grin.

January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, the first three calendar mysteries set in Kansas City a hundred years or so ago, are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com. Look for “The Barn Door,” a calendar mystery prequel short story, now available as a Kindle eBook. You’ll find all of these  plus more on my Amazon Author Central page: www.Amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG

 

 

Suitable Jobs for Women in 1900

Some times we historical fiction writers get so locked into the old days we write about, we forget that our contemporaries might not have the foggiest notion of what we’re talking about.

For instance, I’ve written a new short story called “Detectives’ Honeymoon.” And I’ve been promoting it with this blurb: “After resolving the mysteries of Mischief In March, Book 3 of the Calendar Mystery series, the newly wedded Daniel and Minty Price set off on their honeymoon. But due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, a Harvey Girl, and a would-be Sherlock Holmes, they come to fear they won’t have a honeymoon at all.” The “would-be Sherlock Holmes” still flies, but one of my Facebook friends asked me what a Harvey Girl was. So here’s a bit of history on suitable jobs for women in 1900 that ends with a description of a Harvey Girl.

Back in March 1900 when Mischief in March and “Detectives’ Honeymoon” take place, women still didn’t have many options for respectable employment  outside the home. But still women did work. In Kansas City, with a population of 50,000 in 1900, for instance, 5,000 women worked outside the home. Here are some respectable jobs for women back then.

1) Quite a few worked in Kansas City’s burgeoning garment industry, which I used as the major setting for Fatal February, Book 2 of my Calendar Mystery series.

2) Many were educators, working as “schoolmarms” in one-room school houses in the area, though Mary Louise Barstow and Ada Brann founded their own school for girls in the Quality Hill area of Kansas City around 1884. (Their school has moved several times, but it still exists as a co-ed institution.)

3) Some women went into nursing. A few became doctors.

4) Many women worked outside the home as business girls in assorted capacities, part of typing pools for insurance companies, for instance. Trained stenographers like my heroine Minty Wilcox and my own great aunt Melicent Perkins who inspired her could demand top dollar free-lancing their skills.

5) Women worked in assorted retail establishments around Kansas City like Emery, Bird, Thayer Dry Goods where Minty took her younger siblings to shop for shoes in January Jinx, Book 1 of my Calendar Mystery series.

6) Some women even owned their own businesses, a millinery shop or dressmaker’s, for two instances. Miss Ellen Schooley helped run the family stationer’s shop where Minty Wilcox goes for office supplies.

7) By 1900, most telephone operators in Kansas City and everywhere else in the world for that matter were women, young men having been found too rude and impatient for the work. Mrs. Flora Snodgrass, who lives at the Wilcox home as a boarder along with her husband Lemuel, is a telephone operator.

8) Although Kate Warne worked undercover in the South for Allen Pinkerton during the Civil War, by 1900 very few women worked in law enforcement. Mr. George Mathison, the manager of Price Investigations and Minty Wilcox’s boss, is firmly against female operatives in all three books of my Calendar Mystery series so far.

9) But by 1900 being a Harvey Girl had become a most suitable job for a woman, mostly because of the very high standards Fred Harvey held for his employees including the waitresses who served meals in the restaurants he established along the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe Railroad. Before 1878, when Harvey took over a lunchroom above the train station in Topeka, Kansas, a traveler on railroads beyond Kansas City faced a vast food desert hundreds of miles long. If you didn’t bring your own food for the trip to Denver, for instance, or you did, but you ran out because the train was delayed, you would be very hungry by the time you reached your destination. Or you could risk food poisoning at a whistle stop along the way. By 1900, though, you would find a Harvey House, a top-grade eating establishment every hundred miles along the line. At a Harvey House you could count on getting a fine meal including anything you’d expect in the best New York City establishment served by young, efficient, intelligent, absolutely clean and tidy Harvey Girls of impeccable character. And you got good value for your seventy-five cents dinner, for Harvey Houses were known for slicing their pies into four pieces instead of the usual six.

If you’d like to learn more about the Harvey Girls, read Lesley Poling-Kempes’ lively book The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West. You might also enjoy The Harvey Girls film with Judy Garland. And by all means, please get your very own copy of “Detectives’ Honeymoon,” the latest installment in my Calendar Mystery series, now available for only $0.99 at wwww.amazon.com/dp/B07D89JXN.

You can find other books and stories in my Calendar Mystery series at www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG

New Calendar Mystery Story!

TWO BIRTHDAYS

An Old Kansas City Story

June 22, 1899

Price Investigations Office

Kansas City, Missouri

The office door opening that afternoon startled Minty Wilcox and she almost looked up to see who it was. But then she thought, I’d better keep my head down and look busy. It won’t do for Mr. Mathison to catch me reading a mystery novel when I’m supposed to be hard at work. Indeed, George Mathison, the manager of the Kansas City branch of the Price Investigations Agency, was quite strict about the office staff keeping busy, especially Minty, the newest member of the staff.

Not that there was much work to do at the moment, no one there to take dictation from, no operative reports to type, no papers to file.

Still, Minty closed the black book, a favorite of hers that she liked to reread that time of year, and hid it in her top desk drawer. After that, she began typing furiously at her ancient blind-strike Remington typewriting machine. As a precaution earlier, she’d loaded a blank piece of paper in the typewriter. A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, she typed. A quick . . .

“Where’s Mrs. B?” a man asked.

After Minty lifted her hands from the keyboard and looked up, her heart started going pitty pat.

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Two Birthdays, an old Kansas City story

After Minty Wilcox has worked for six months or so at Price Investigations as a stenographer/typist, the dashing detective Daniel Price appears in the office and carries her off to take notes on a new case the agency has been hired for. But once he starts filling Minty in on the details of the case, some of the information sounds strangely familiar. And she begins to wonder what he’s really up to on her twentieth birthday, June 22, 1899.

Praise for January Jinx, Book 1 in the Calendar Mystery series

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic . . . The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and the characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

“Two Birthdays,” a Calendar Mystery short story featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price getting to know each other, is now available for your Kindle for $0.99 (and always free from KindleUnlimited)* at www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

*This fun story will be available for free to all on October 20 through 22, and October 26 and 27.

 

 

Watermelon on the Fourth of July

A Reminiscence

Writing “The Barn Door” and “Lost Dog,” prequel stories set on July 4 and July 5, 1898, to my calendar mystery series, reminded me of a trip Mom, Dad, Dotty, our short-legged beagle mix, and I made one summer not long after they bought the first car I can remember our having: a used, white and light blue ’54 Chevy two-door.

Later Dad discovered a short cut to our destination, the farm in Clarion County, PA, where my grandmother Willman grew up. But the first time we visited there for that Independence Day back in the fifties—before there even were interstates—we came in through Lamartine, a town of maybe forty households, a general store, a school and the Methodist church. (You won’t find it on any map because the name was later changed to Salem.) The tiny town stretched along a country crossroads, north and south, then east past Daddy’s aunt Maude and his cousin Walter Kurtz’s houses, and on down the hill between sloping fields planted in wheat.

At the bottom of the hill, Daddy turned right onto a rough dusty road. As we drove between what Dad called the water meadow and the family’s wood lot, I sat up straight for the first view of the house across the pond. Built in 1877, white with black shutters, it had two windows upstairs and two down, balanced on either side of the front door, up a few steps from the yard.

I loved the house when I first saw it and fretted restlessly in the back seat to get inside it even as the car bumped up the lane past the pond, past the house, past the garden and stopped by a decrepit corn crib. The substantial barn, built by my great grandfather Shirey in the Centennial year of 1876, stood farther up the hill on the right.

By the time we went to family reunions at the farm, milkweed and slender scrub oaks, seven or eight feet tall, had over-grown the yard in front of the barn at the lowest level. But my uncle George Hickman kept the lane mowed up and around the barn to the big doors on the other side. Beams a square foot spanned the big space up there. Dad said they’d come from the property itself.

No doubt the logs for the cabin where the family lived at first came from there, too. The year after the barn went up, my great grandfather Shirey, undoubtedly with the help of his neighbors, built the house around the cabin, then tore the cabin down, leaving a V-shaped house.

After Daddy parked the car, Mom opened the passenger side door, and Dotty slid out, trotted around the car and squatted over some spot of grass indistinguishable from the rest except for her contribution. Mom, Dad, and I gathered our suitcases from the trunk and wrangled them toward the house beyond a line of big, dark pines in the side yard. A stocky man of medium height with thin, dark hair and black-rimmed glasses, my uncle George, came out, saying, “Here, here, let me help with those bags.”

We entered the house by way of the huge, square country kitchen ruled over by the white-haired dowager of the family, my grandmother Willman. She had as her minions  my aunt Mary Hickman and her daughters, all more reserved with our part of the family than Uncle George, largely due to a feud over money the decade before. By the fifties, the situation had reached détente, mostly I think, because Mom wasn’t about to let old grudges deny her more or less free accommodations like those in the old house with half a dozen bedrooms, large and small.

Later, I slept in a narrow bedroom just around from the stairs. Back when Dad was a kid, a maiden aunt had this room. She must have been a poor relation because the room was very spare, furnished with bed barely larger than a cot, an orange crate on end for a nightstand, and a chest of drawers. The room had two windows. One next to the orange crate that served as a nightstand overlooked the side yard and the privy. The other window on the far side of the bed looked out at the steep hill behind the house. On hot nights, the wind breathed in one window and out the other, making the little room pleasantly breezy and cool. I found some ancient novels from the 1920’s on the lower shelf of the orange crate, and inveterate reader that I already was, I tried them. They seemed quaint and a little dull.

The house didn’t have an indoor bathroom until quite a while later, after Uncle George retired, and he and Aunt Mary moved to the farm permanently. They built a bathroom, laundry room, and galley kitchen onto what had been the porch that spanned both legs of the V in the back of the house. They left the outhouse, though, and Dad visited it occasionally for old times’ sake. It was quite a ways from the house, on a narrow rill that ran down to the spring house. (The Shireys brought the drinking water into the house to the hand pump in the kitchen sink from the horse spring above the house, a good thing, considering the possibility of insufficient rock between the privy and the spring house to filter contaminants out of the ground water. My dad, the civil engineer, said it took fifty feet.)

During that first summer visit to the farm, Daddy and I went for several walks. One day in particular stands out. Dad and I climbed the long, steep hill behind the house all the way to the top. There we found several graves overgrown by prickly bushes. Field stones marked the graves, by then, shallow depressions in the earth. The graves with stones only two or three feet apart made us sad as we knew babies and children were buried there. Dad said that these graves were  probably from around the time his grandparents first settled in this part of Pennsylvania, back around 1875 or so, not all that long after the Civil War.

As it turned out, the highlight of our first visit to the family farm, at least for me, was a watermelon my dad picked up. The afternoon we arrived, we went out again in the car right after lunch, this time with Uncle George, so he could direct us to an open-air market nearby. On that hot July afternoon, Dad wore khaki wash pants and a short-sleeved shirt with the deep oval of his white undershirt showing at the neck, and rings of sweat darkening the underarms. A straw hat hid his thin, dark hair.

As we stood in front of the stacked melons, my dad said, “You don’t need to cut a piece out of it to tell if it’s ripe.” He leaned over and flicked a big melon with the middle fingers of his right hand. “See?”

“Uh huh,” I said, though I didn’t really know what that thump of his fingers against the striped green watermelon meant.

The clerk weighed the melon and Dad paid for it, twenty cents to the pound. There were lots of pounds. He hefted it up to his left shoulder and carried it over to the car. Though Dad was a short guy, only about five foot five, he’d trained himself when he surveyed the mountains of West Virginia for the CCC to stride exactly a yard every time his right foot hit the dirt.

Back at the farm, Dad got the melon out of the trunk. Instead of taking it inside to the refrigerator, already jammed with food for the forthcoming Independence Day picnic, he carried it downhill to the spring house, a low stone building built into the slope. I followed Dad into the dim, cool building. “Watch out for the well,” Dad said as he pointed to a dark square of water in the floor on the right. “My sister Esther went head over heels in there one time. Like to scare the daylights out of her. It’s deep and really cold.”

I skirted the well and followed Dad through a narrow doorway on the left and down a couple of steps. Two shallow troughs of water stretched on either side of the paved floor. I could imagine bottles of fresh milk and cream plus bowls of berries from the garden floating in those trough water. That day they held only water until Dad lowered the melon off his shoulder and down into one of them. I hunkered down and dipped my fingers in the water. It was icy cold. “We’ll come out and turn it every once in a while,” Dad said. “By the fourth it’ll be perfect.”

And so it was. On Independence Day we dined like hogs on Grandmother Willman’s Parker House rolls along with fried chicken, ham, meatloaf, deviled eggs, those weird gelatin salads that many of the women tried made back then, baked and green beans, the latter picked early that morning and cooked just with butter in a big pot. “These beans are delicious,” my mother said once she’d tried them. And that was really something since she gave few compliments, especially to Daddy’s women folk.

After the ladies commenced to slice the pies and cakes, Dad went down to the spring house and fetched the melon up to the barn on his shoulder. Cold water slid around his wrist and dappled his shirt as he carried it to the picnic table outside the barn, its doors flung open wide to let light and air in to the other tables. Dad laid the melon down on the oilcloth, cut the melon in half lengthwise with a long-bladed knife. The two halves split open to reveal the pink meat and black, slippery seeds. Daddy cut the halves into quarters, then the quarters into wedges and slices. I spat the seeds out into the grass as I ate watermelon, sweet and ripe to the center, and so cold it made my teeth ache.

In the evening, we snacked a little more, though not on the watermelon, long since devoured, its seeds scattered in the grass, its rind collected by my grown-women cousins in bowls and basins to pickle for next year’s picnic. Then we waddled to the cars and drove up the lane and out the country road, back to Lamartine to hear a fife and drum corps, just like they had back in the days of the American Revolution when western Pennsylvania was the frontier. After dark we watched fireworks out over the dewy hill, so close I smelled the gunpowder. Long after dark we drove through a countryside resounding with crickets and cicada, back to the farmhouse sheltered by the hillside.

I fell asleep in the narrow bed in the narrow bedroom, not knowing how special in my memory of that day, my folks, and that melon would become, long after it was devoured and yes, the watermelon rind pickles too.

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Juliet Kincaid writes the calendar historical mysteries and the Cinderella, P. I. mysteries for grown-ups. Stories and novels of both series are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.

First Crush

A Reminiscence

One afternoon back in the summer of ’52, I got in such deep trouble with my mom and dad that I got spanked for it. The guy I got in trouble with was gorgeous: medium height, he had wavy black hair and intense blue eyes. He looked great in (and half out of) buckskins. And he had wonderfully toned pectorals.

I didn’t know that word yet. (I guess we’d call them his six-pack now.) So I thought of that part of his anatomy, and thought about it again, and drooled over the memory of seeing it on the screen during the next few days, as his chest. That guy had great chest, liberally displayed when the doctor dug the bullet (or was it an arrow?) out of the adjacent shoulder. The fellow bore the pain most manfully, albeit with the help of that frontier anesthetic, whiskey swigged from a jug.

The movie was The Big Sky, the actor was Dewey Martin, and I was in love, or really some sort of pre-pubescent lust. And I was so taken by his performance, well his chest primarily, that I sat through the whole movie a second time.

This was a major error of judgment because once I reeled out of the theater another two hours later, I knew I was in deep trouble. When I’d paid my thirty-five cents to the cashier and got my ticket four hours earlier, it had been bright and sunny outside. Now it was almost dark. Crying, I hurried toward the bus stop a half block down the avenue in front of the columned bank building.

Before I got to the corner, though, here came my dad bearing down on me with the yard-long engineer’s stride he trained himself to take back when he was a surveyor with the CCC. I could tell he was mad, mostly from worry I understand now that I’m a parent. Or maybe it was because we went home by cab which cost lots more than bus fare, probably to get there fast to relieve Mom of her worries. (We didn’t have a car or a phone yet.)

For supper I had cold boiled cabbage and ham. (Mom and Dad must have eaten all the onions and the potatoes she usually put in that dish.) But I was so hungry it tasted delicious. For dessert I got my licking. Dad spanked me with his bedroom slipper instead of the razor strop he used on my brother after Dale played hooky from school to go fishing down by the river when we lived in Garden Court in South Point, Ohio.

I guess the spanking hurt and I never again stayed out late without parental permission until I was in college and my parents were out of town. And Dad only spanked me the one time during my childhood and adolescence, though Mom took licks at me a couple of times, once with the bristle end of a broom for not coming right home from grade school and later on when I was in high school, with the soft side of a plumber’s friend for giving her lip.

The spanking Dad gave me didn’t stop me from thinking about Dewey Martin. I bought movie magazines like Photoplay and Modern Screen on the sly at Nick’s News downtown across the street from the library and scoured them for pictures of my favorite. One photo I found was tiny, but showed Martin bare-chested. Oh joy. I neatly cut it out with Mom’s sewing scissors and hid it in my dresser drawer among my underpants. Sometimes I’d pull the picture out and pet it.

The spanking my dad gave me also didn’t keep me from falling in love with a long series of men I’ve known only from the big or little screen. I can still list them in a long incantation of desire: Dewey Martin, Yul Brynner (another very manly chest) and . . . I’ll spare you the rest.

How about you? Who was the first star you had a crush on?

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Juliet Kincaid writes the Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-ups and the calendar historical mystery series set in Kansas City around 1900. These stories and novels are available as trade paperbacks and Kindle eBooks from Amazon. com. (And they’re always free on Kindle Unlimited.)

Dress Shields and Other Devices of Torment

A Reminiscence

Around the age of fourteen I had my one growth-spurt of adolescence and reached my full height of five foot one and three quarters. I also attained the full maturity of my glands, including those I sweat with. Soon thereafter my mother decreed that in order to protect my good clothes, that is, any article of clothing I wore to church and many I wore to school, I had to wear dress shields.

In case you don’t know about these little monsters, let me describe them. About the size of a shoulder pad, but meant to fold into the armpit instead of over the shoulder, a dress shield is an oval of layered cloth and rubber.  Many come with little straps.

Back then dress shields didn’t come in disposable like they do now, and after I wore my dress shields a few times, even my mother, the power-laundress and detergent-maven, couldn’t get the smell of sweat out of them. So I’d end up embarrassed over my possible body odor and therefore inclined to keep my elbows locked into my ribs.

My mother had other devices, too. Even now I have trouble keeping my bra straps on my narrow shoulders. So Mom came upon a solution when she discovered strap clips in a bin at Kresge’s Five and Dime close by the dreaded dress shields. This meant when gussied up for school or church in a bra, slip, and dress shields, I’d have wads of straps so thick and cumbersome that soon they slid off my shoulders and thus kept me from lifting my arms. What with the stinky dress shields under my arms and several straps across my biceps, no wonder I rarely raised my hand in high school.

The dress shields and clips weren’t the only devices of torment Mom hobbled me with. Though I never weighed more than one hundred and five pounds till I was past twenty and was, besides that, fit from twice weekly dance lessons and lots of walking, the conventional wisdom of the time said good girls wore panty girdles to hold up their stockings on Sundays and also to hold in the tummies they wouldn’t have until they got married and had a bunch of kids. Of course, a properly fitting panty girdle was guaranteed to dig grooves into the bottom of any girl as she sat through three hours of Sunday school and church.

My mom even managed to get my daddy in on the instruments of torture, for it was her contention that I was hard on shoes. Indeed, she believed this and kidded me about it until I was well into my fifties. So, to virtually every new pair of shoes, dress or casual, I got during my adolescence, Dad nailed heel taps, little pieces of metal shaped like flattened cashews. This meant, unless I wanted to make a clatter on wooden and tile floors, I had to tiptoe. On carpets, the taps tended to make me skid. Trying striding along confidently when you have taps on your shoes.

Now, to sum this whole torment up, picture me on a typical Easter Sunday when I was in my mid-teens. There I sit in the pew to which I tiptoed in my new shoes with the taps on the heels. On my little face I wear cat’s eye glasses that I push back up my narrow nose from time to time–when I’m not easing the clips that hold my straw boater firmly clamped to my aching temples like the claws of some vicious bird. Under my beige silk blouse and cashmere sweater with orange piping coordinated with a silk skirt, I wear slip, bra and dress shields into which I’m heartily sweating because of all the layers I wear including the panty girdle and hose.

From the perspective of several decades removed from that poor, challenged girl I was, I realize now that it was very hard for me to feel worshipful back then when I constantly fought my clothes. I’ve always thought going to college led me to rebel against church-going at age nineteen. But now I wonder if it was my dress shields instead.

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Juliet Kincaid writes the Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-ups featuring a favorite fairy tale heroine and the calendar historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900 that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond.

You can buy Juliet’s novels and stories at Amazon.com as trade paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. (They’re always free from Kindle Unlimited.)

Juliet’s most recent publication is “The Barn Door,” a prequel short story to her calendar mysteries that introduces her dashing detective Daniel Price. Click on this link to go to it: www.amazon.com/dp/B073G7ZXMP

 

 

 

 

First Love

A Reminiscence

It’s Sunday just past eight as we leave Mom behind at home. Dad wears the same dark gray suit he wears to work. His shirt is fresh and his tie knotted close to his Adam’s apple. My brother Dale, seven years older, wears a heavy, white sweater over his shirt, woolen knee pants, and Argyle knee socks. I’m in my new red coat with the matching red bonnet. Underneath I’m wearing the plaid cotton dress I had my first grade picture taken in. Dad tucks his bible under his left elbow and holds my left hand and Dale takes my right hand. We walk down the street past the other little houses on our cul de sac called Garden Court in South Point, Ohio. We stop at the highway and look both ways before we cross with care. As we wait for the bus that will take us part of the way to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Huntington, West Virginia, I start to pop up and down, toes to heels, heels to toes, rock back and forth with excitement.

Then here the bus comes up the road. As my breath comes faster and faster still, the bus slows and stops with a wheeze of its brakes. The doors fold open and there he is.

“Hi, Jesse,” I say, with bated breath as Dad and Dale swing me up the steep steps, and set me down on my feet next to the man in the broad leather-covered driver’s seat.

“Hi, Jet,” he says, calling me by my childhood nickname.

His name is Jesse Lemaster and I’ve been in love with him since the moment I first climbed onto his bus two years before.

I’ve rarely seen him standing, but I can tell from the way he fills the space at the front of the bus between the big wheel and the lever he uses to operate the doors, that he’s tall and lanky. He has blue eyes and wears his nondescript brown hair short and slicked back. He wears his usual gray, short-sleeved shirt and gray wash pants.

I pay no attention to Daddy, who probably puts money in the till for the three of us, and Dale, who obviously gets on the bus because he gets off with Dad and me in Huntington when we make our transfer to a city bus. I only have eyes for Jesse as I settle in the seat at the top of the steps.

I wonder now why this seat was always empty when I got on the bus. Perhaps Jesse shooed other riders out of it just so I could have it on Sundays. I watch him pull the lever to shut the door, release the brake, and engage the clutch with one big foot. The bus eases back into traffic as I lean forward and start to talk.

I tell Jesse what’s happening at home with Mom and our cocker spaniel Donny Boy that Daddy had since before I was born and Jersey Bird, the parakeet I picked out from among a hundred birds raised by Mom’s friend after he lost his feet in an automobile accident in New Brunswick, New Jersey. We brought Jersey Bird home on the train in a shoe box with holes in the top to live in a metal cage in the living room close to the furnace.

I’ve already told Jesse about getting spanked in first grade for asking a kid across the aisle if I could borrow his red crayon, so I’m spoiled on the subject of school for a while.

Jesse listens. Sometimes he smiles and glances my way as he drives the bus into town on Sunday morning so long ago.

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Twenty years later, after I got my Master’s from the University of Colorado and returned to Huntington to teach at Marshall University, I called the bus company to find out if Jesse still worked for them. He did. In fact he drove the route in town I used to take to go to my dance classes. So I caught the bus one afternoon, climbed on, said, “Hello, Jesse, remember me?”

He did. And he reminisced. He said that when I was four, I was small and looked two. “But you spoke as clearly as you do now,” Jesse said, a man cooler and more remote than the man I loved when I was a little girl.

Back then I knew absolutely that the attraction was mutual. For after all, Jesse gave me gifts.

One Easter he was off-duty, so he sent an emissary. The guy who drove his route that day came up to our house with a basket wrapped with crinkly paper and filled with candy my mom must have parceled out to me stingily.

But the Christmas I was six, Jesse came to the house himself to give me a big blue rag doll dog with floppy ears. I hugged it to my chest and dubbed it “Blue Doggy.” The next time we rode the bus, I clutched my new doll and sighed, “Well, Jesse, I guess I’ll just have to marry you now.”

I didn’t, of course, but I think it’s absolutely no accident that throughout my adult life I’ve been attracted to tall, lean men with light eyes. (Hey, Clint Eastwood still works for me!

And I named my daughter Jessica. (I never told her father why I chose that name.)

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Juliet Kincaid writes the calendar mystery series, set in Kansas City about a hundred years ago, and the Cinderella, P. I. mysteries that feature Cinderella, twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball. All her stories and novels are available as Kindle eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com.