Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

02 July 2012

What’s Up With a Bunch of Grapes?


by Jan Grape


As I write this on Friday night I’m trying to finalize some housekeeping chores and getting everything ready to pack  because I’m flying to New Jersey for our Tri-annual Grape Family Reunion. Yep, a whole bunch of Grape get together every three years to see what’s going on in the lives of the seven offspring of the family I married into forty-four years ago.  In 1975, Mom Grape, who lived in Loma Linda CA, passed away and my late husband, Elmer went out for the funeral.  His oldest sister, Ina was in the hospital in VA having just undergone mastectomy surgery and was unable to attend.  Elmer thought it was just too cruel to only get to see his brothers and sisters in the time of tragedy but half lived on the west coast and half on the east coast and he’d settled in Texas.  He was next to the youngest but always seemed to be listened to because of the three boys he was the most outspoken and so his idea was to have a family reunion the next summer, 1976, and have it at our house in Memphis TN where we’d lived since ‘72.

When he got back home and told me, I readily agreed.  I had met all of his brothers and sisters already and knew there was a good chance we’d have a darn good time.  And we did, despite the fact that the last two weeks of August turned out to be one of the worst summers for Memphis because of unusually high humidity.  We’d lived in Houston previously but you never get used to high humidity. All of the brothers and sisters came with spouses except one sister recently widowed and one sis who have never married.  A number of nieces and nephews came, I don’t recall exact number of each but we had 48 people who came during that two week time-frame. We had a small house, (1350 sq. ft. 3 bedroom,1-1/2 bath) but we had a camper and a friend loaned us a trailer and a next-door neighbor who was out of town loaned her house for bathroom privileges.  A couple of people came in a camper of their own and everyone else fought for a space on the floor for a sleeping bag. We had snagged 3-4 army cots for a females only dormitory in the living room. We claimed all step-children and adopted children without any problems and still do. Everyone took turns cooking and everyone helped with clean-up. We took a riverboat ride on the Mississippi, visited the new shopping mall that Elmer had built. He was a superintendent in commercial construction and this was the first two-level mall within a five hundred mile radius. 

It was decided that we’d have these reunions every three years because everyone lived so far away and that long time in between would give folks a chance to save up vacation time and extra money to make the trip to the next location.  In 1979 we went to Fairfax, VA,  to Ina’s house. And our sweet  never married Esther  had just married at age 57. She came but her new hubby couldn’t make it, then in 1982 we went to Cory, PA to Roger’s who is the youngest boy.  In 1985 Elmer & I had moved back to Houston and once again hosted. Oh horrors, heat and humidity once again but we survived. We also had a wedding that year, Easter & Mom Grape had raised & adopted Jeanie and she and Alan had a lovely formal wedding with the reception at our house.  Our house was a little larger, we did have 2 bathrooms yet somehow we managed although we had suitcases lining the hallway and sleeping bags once again littered our floors.

In 1988 we had moved to Austin and our niece Dona lived directly behind us, so guess who agreed to have the reunion.  She had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and so did we. We had a gate in the back yard fence so people could walk back and forth easily. Plus we also had a Motel 6 just across I-35 which worked out nicely. But that year I said it was time for the younger set, the nieces and nephews, to take over the hosting job. In 1991 we went to Hyde Park, NY, in 1994 Council Bluffs, IA, in 1997 Bergen, NY and in 2000, our daughter Karla hosted the reunion in Nashville, TN.  In 2003, our niece Dona hosted us at her lovely home on Inks Lake, TX (75 miles west of Austin.)  In  2006, Kissimmee FL, I missed  our reunion for my first time. Elmer had passed away only 5 months before and I just wasn’t up to going. In 2009 we went to Sacramento, CA. We had a fantastic time and as usual did a lot of sight-seeing.

This year, a nephew who lives in Little Falls, NJ, which is only 20 min. from NYC is hosting and I’m so excited to be going. I’m leaving from Austin Airport about noon on Sunday, July 1st and will stay until the 7th or 8th.  I’m really looking forward to getting together with everyone.  We try not to dwell on the ones we’ve lost because there are new little ones and new spouses every time you turn around.  As usual we’ll enjoy each other’s company and see some wonderful new sights.  I have no idea who will volunteer to host this awesome family reunion in 2015, but you can bet I’ll be going and having a “GRAPE” time.

Sorry, I didn’t talk about writing this time, but I’ve been recovering from a ear and sinus infection and with this upcoming super family reunion constantly on my mind, it just naturally was the only thing I could think of to write about.  In case anyone is wondering, Knut Grape,  the patriarch of this family (1871-1953) was 100% Swede. In Sweden they have an umlaut over the E but since we don’t use those marks in the USA we’re happy to just say our name is Grape. Elmer and I made two trips to Sweden and met a number of distant cousins. We now have some who come to our reunions and that is way cool.

Next time…I will be back on script.


  

15 May 2012

O' Danny Boy

By David Dean

In my last blog I mentioned that my brother, Danny, and his wife, attended the Edgars banquet with Robin and I.  It has occurred to me since, that Danny deserves better than a mention.  In fact, if there were a category for "Best Supporter For An Edgar Nominee"; I would submit his name and begin to throw plates and glasses if he didn't win.

It's hard to really know me without knowing my big brother.  Firstly, he is big...very big; unlike yours truly.  He is six-two and weighs in at around two-twenty.  I, on the other hand, leave a smaller carbon footprint at an athletic five-eight; one fifty-seven.  He would, and has, described me as scrawny.  So, as you might imagine from this description, I grew up in his shadow...literally and figuratively.  Figuratively because he also cast a long shadow over our neighborhood and beyond.  In his teens he had already gained a reputation as a fearless fighter and doer of daring deeds.  He was also good-looking in a (young) Elvis sort of way.  This look went over particularly well with the girls of that era, as the 'King' was just ascending in popularity during this long-ago time.

I shared a bed with this person for several years of my life and received a number of bruises for the honor.  Even though, at that time, Danny was quite slender, he was long-limbed and slept with a kind of abandon that was, and is (thanks to him), totally foreign to me.  I would lay curled into a tight ball as close to the edge of the bed as I could manage without actually falling out.  Often this was not enough and I would receive a blow to one of my skinny biceps for disturbing the young lion at his rest.  These blows were called 'frogging'.  I don't know why.  I do know that they hurt.  After administering this rough justice, he would splay himself comfortably across his eighty percent of the bed and fall instantly back to sleep, while I sniveled as quietly as possible, and prayed for deliverance.

Danny's youthful exploits were the stuff of legend: He was kidnapped once from the sidewalk in front of Arnold Jr. High School by a carload of older teenage boys and carried away to a remote and unfinished neighborhood.  There he found himself pushed into a ring formed by excited youth who had come to watch his performance against their champion.  Danny was fourteen at the time and the young Achilles he faced a seventeen year old from Jordan High.  It was revealed later that this moment of reckoning had been arranged due to Danny's unwelcome attendance upon the girlfriend of his opponent.

When Danny staggered into the house afterwards, he was covered with blood.  I was laying on the couch reading a comic book (a Classics Illustrated, no doubt) when the front door opened.  I was literally struck speechless.  In his typical fashion, Danny brought an index finger up to his busted lips to indicate that I should remain silent (as a rule, he preferred me this way).  In this case, however, it was to keep from alerting mom before he could clean up.  Of course, she stepped out of the bathroom at just this instance, went white as a sheet and screamed.  Danny shrugged; slid past her into the bathroom, and said something about washing up.  You would have thought he just needed a little freshening before dinner.  Though he most certainly did not prevail in this encounter, it vaulted his reputation--by all accounts he had acquitted himself with courage and honor.  The fact that he was hitting on some older guy's girlfriend only added to his mystique.

In high school, he was arrested for drag-racing in our family car, a '55 Olds.  When the police brought him home, the old man was smoldering.  I was fearful of what dad might do.  Danny, nonplussed, sauntered to the opposite wall, and 'assumed the position'.  The 'position' was the typical frisk position seen in all police movies of the era--feet splayed with hands against the wall to support the leaning figure.  I thought the old man's head would explode at this display of fearless disdain.  He snatched the belt from his waist with such force and alacrity, that I thought his trousers might come off with it like a proto-Chippendale dancer.

That night, as I lay quietly weeping for the damage done my brother, he kept his back to me and was silent.  After what seemed a long time, he rolled over and propped himself on one elbow to take a look at me.  I could see by the streetlamp that shone through our window that there were tears standing in his eyes.  I think I said something like, "I'm sorry, Danny..."  I don't know why, as I had done nothing to bring about his punishment.  He studied me for a few moments more; then casually and with less force than usual, frogged me and said, "Shut up."   Then he rolled over and went to sleep.

Many, many, years later, Danny was one of the first to read one of  my fledgling stories.  He was not a big reader, but made a concession on my account.  He liked it.  "Real good," he gushed.  "Got anything else?"  This was high praise from Caesar!  Of course, it occurred to me that he was just being nice, but then I remembered who I was dealing with--Danny didn't 'do' nice unless he meant it.  So I sent him other stories.  At some point I became aware that he had actually subscribed to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine on my behalf.

The demise of our father, "Wild Bill" to some; "Sweet William" to others, brought us closer together.  The death of this force of nature knocked us both to our knees.  I remember Danny weeping at dad's graveside as if he would never stop; his beautiful daughters and wife clustered around and holding him.  Something inside him cracked that day, I think, and an affectionate nature that had long lay hidden poured forth.  From that time to this he has never ceased to be there for me (and me for him, I like to think). 

In our maturing years, we established the custom of vacationing together after our children had gone away to college, and it was on one of these jaunts that a certain truth began to be revealed.  Danny had recently read a novel that I had written (it has never been published) that featured a character named Bruce.  Danny admired this character immensely, and observed quietly that his middle name was Bruce.  In fact, he went on, warming to his subject, this thoroughly likable, good-looking, and courageous character shared many, many traits with himself.  He gave me his old half-smile over his Jack Daniels when he said this.  I assured him that it was precisely those qualities that ruled him out as a model for the character, and added that he was both self-delusional and pathologically egotistical.  He just continued to smirk at me.

Since that day, he has grown increasingly convinced that any of my male characters that demonstrate a degree of bravery or bravado, good judgement or wisdom, kindness or forbearance, have somehow descended from him to me, and thence onto paper.  I've given up trying to convince him otherwise.  I tried suggesting that, perhaps, he might be more easily recognizable in a few of my villains, but he just gives me that damn smile of his until I shut up.  Did I mention that he is aggravatingly perceptive?

Danny and Wanda journeyed all the way from Georgia, and at great expense I might add, not only for the Edgars banquet this year, but also for the Dell Magazine cocktail party when I received the Readers Award in 2007.  I could not dissuade him either time, he would have none of it--he was coming on behalf of his little brother. 

The bruises he inflicted on me in my tender youth have long since faded, but my love and admiration for this amazing man continues unabated to this day, and will never waver.  As for my literary creations, well, maybe he has exercised some small influence on them; infused a few subtle shadings, perhaps.  The truth is, though we have begun to grow old together, I am still his little brother, and he straddles my world, both the real and imagined, like a mighty colossus and whatever I do is done within the shade of his comforting presence.                          

 



     

01 May 2012

Edgar

by David Dean

April 9th: At the time of my writing this (but not at the time of your reading it), I do not yet know the outcome of the Edgars awards. As you might surmise, I am keenly interested for entirely selfish reasons--my story, "Tomorrow's Dead" is a nominee. Strangely, it appears that other writers have had stories nominated as well. In my fantasy world this would not be necessary, as the flawless crafting of my gem of a tale would simply preclude the necessity. In the real world, however, there's a very good chance that one of them, and not my humble self, will be waltzing out the door with the coveted bust. It appears that these 'others' have written some pretty good stories themselves...at least according to some.

I've been writing for twenty-three years and, like most writers, I have largely done so without much notice. That's not to say I haven't been published, but my walls aren't exactly groaning under the weight of plaques and awards for it. My biggest thrill to date, and it was thrilling, was winning the Ellery Queen Readers Award for "Ibrahim's Eyes". Even then, I shared the award with the late, great Ed Hoch with whom I tied in the balloting, though he was certainly good company in which to find myself.

Other stories have received nominations for various awards, but none have come up a winner, and though I don't like to admit it, each loss was something of a blow. Considering the undeniable prestige of the Edgar Allan Poe Award, I can't help but prepare for a correspondingly heavy one in this case. Of course, it's a great honor to have a story nominated at all (and trust me, after twenty-three years I had put the very thought of it completely from my mind) but it also places something of a burden on one's shoulders. I know that many of you have already experienced this (or will in the future) and understand what I'm talking about. As the season of euphoria dwindles and the day of reckoning draws nigh, how I handle not getting the award becomes just as important as what to do should I win it. Not only will many of my fellow writers be in attendance, but so will Janet Hutchings, the editor of EQMM and a wonderfully kind person who has shown great faith in me over the years. My wife, Robin (She Who Walks In Beauty), will be by my side, as will my brother, Danny, and his wife, Wanda. They are traveling all the way from Georgia for the occasion and, I'm sure, expecting a big finale! Even my editing staff, which is to say my children, will be standing by their various phones for news of the outcome! Thank God, I handle pressure really, really well, damnit!

Whatever the outcome, be it tears or joy, the following day (or perhaps just a little longer under the circumstances) I will find myself sitting in front of my computer trying to write something again. Something good and worthwhile and that someone will want to publish. I may find it easier if little Edgar's bust is perched on my desk overlooking my efforts, or I may find it more difficult because expectations have been raised and now I must meet them. His absence may be a blessing in disguise, allowing me to carry on unencumbered and free to do exactly as I wish and that I have always done. Or, just the opposite; creating a black hole that sucks the creativity out of me with a violent implosion. Whatever the outcome, I'll have to start stringing together words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs just as I did before Little Eddie came into the picture. But will I be the same? I doubt it. We writers are always affected by the things and events that surround and touch us, and this will be no different for me. I just hope that when the dust settles that I've been made somehow better by the experience. Saint Thomas More, patron of lawyers and writers (Utopia) put it this way:

Give me the Grace Good Lord, to set the world at naught; to set my mind fast upon Thee and not hang upon the blast of men's mouths (I especially like the 'blast of men's mouths' part). To be content to be solitary. Not to long for worldly company but utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of the business thereof.

Though it is often referred to as the 'Lawyer's Prayer', I think it is good advice for writers too, don't you? I will complete this posting upon my return from NYC, but will not alter what I have written up to this point regardless of the outcome. Here you have my true thoughts and feelings prior to the conclusion of the whole affair. When I return, you will have the rest...for better or for worse.

April 30: As promised, I have returned to complete my posting and I didn't alter one word of what I had previously written. Most of you probably already know the outcome of the Edgars, but for those of you who don't--I didn't come home with the coveted bust. Peter Turnbull is the very happy writer who carried away the prize; though I use the phrase loosely, as he was not actually present, but at home in England. His story was very deserving, and I'm not just saying this to appear a gracious loser. When I read it some months ago to acquaint myself with the competition, I actually did remark to Robin, "I may be in trouble here." It turns out I was prophetic.

We had a wonderful time at the banquet and got to meet many a writing celebrity; several of whom we stalked like paparazzi. Mary Higgins Clark and Sandra Brown were kind enough to act as if my wife and sister-in-law were old acquaintances and not two strange women who may have gotten past security. It was also a distinct pleasure to visit with many of our colleagues, including my Tuesday counterpart, Dale Andrews (at the EQMM cocktail party) and Criminal Briefers, James Lincoln Warren (as dapper and clever, as ever), Melodie Johnson Howe, and Steven Steinbock. It felt a little like a reunion on fast forward. Doug Allyn sat next to me at the EQMM table and gave me his napkin after the announcement for best short story was made. I believe he was muttering something like, "Show some spine, Dean...my god man, people are looking!"

Alright, it wasn't as bad as all that. In fact, when the dust settled, I felt I might be able to go on after all. As I remarked, quite bravely, I thought, "Tomorrow I will be writing again." And I am.

10 January 2012

Big Shot Writers

By David Dean

Not a Big Shot Writer
My daughter, Bridgid, suggested that my next posting on SleuthSayers address the issue of where I got the ideas that became published stories for me. She assured me that there is a large audience of novice writers, and just plain fiction buffs, that visit authors' blog sites everyday for just such info as this. I countered that this audience was most likely for writers with a slightly higher recognition profile than my own. Strangely, she did not deny this. This was during her Christmas visit and the gifts had already been opened. Next year may be a lean one for her.

My son, Julian, the English teacher (or Professor as he likes to be addressed), gave me a huge compendium containing the works of some short story writers somewhat better known than myself. You may recognize a few of these names: Willa Cather, Joseph Conrad, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Joyce, Flannery O'Connor, Edgar Allan Poe, etc, etc...blah, blah, blah. Some of them struck a distant chord with me. The name of this book is, The Art of the Short Story compiled and edited by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn, and offering insights by the authors themselves on their stories within, or on some aspect of writing them. The 'professor' added, "You should read this." I thought I detected the slightest of smirks on his face (again, this was after the opening of his gifts from his mother and me).

It seemed to me that, perhaps, my children (who had once been so adorable) were trying to tell me something; it occurred to me that they may have been insinuating that there was room for improvement in my writing efforts, or something along those lines. It is only fair to note, that the two of them act as the unofficial editors (and unwanted critics) of most of my scribblings since they became college graduates. Their older sister, Tanya, lives in Atlanta and has children of her own and therefore no time to pile on with her siblings, thank God. The other two, however, have a certain proprietary air about them when it comes to my so-called writing career.

"I've read a bunch of these," I countered. "A whole bunch. Some of them are pretty good. That Poe dude is a little heavy-handed in the prose department though, don't 'cha think?" Take that, professor. His expression was equal parts disappointment and disdain. "Yeah," I went on, "he does guest features on SleuthSayers from time to time...we call him, 'E.A.' for short." No laughter, no smiles...nothing. Kinda like the photo below.

E.A. (Big Shot Writer)
When the critics finally went away, having stripped the house of most edibles, their mother and I were left behind once more; at least until we should be needed to provide something useful. The 'Book' rested on my nightstand...waiting. After spraining a wrist lifting it, I discovered that I had, indeed, read a number of the stories, though certainly not the majority of them. In fact, as I read, it reminded me of what a wonderful form of expression the short story really is. It also reminded me of why I've always like to write them. You can do things with a short story that just aren't possible in another medium. Imagine The Yellow Wallpaper or The Lottery as novels--they would have become bogged down and tedious with detail; diluting their impact. How about, To Build a Fire? The terrifying urgency of that story would have been lost at book-length. Even, E.A.'s stuff would have collapsed under its own weight had he not confined himself to short stories.

According to the authors of the "Art" the short story is the most recent and modern of literary forms; Nathaniel Hawthorne being credited with its introduction to the English Language in 1837 with Twice Told Tales. I did not actually know this, but I'm sure the professor did. As a testament to his genius (Hawthorne's, not my son's), many of those tales still read very well today and retain a compelling narrative power. It's astounding how really good writing can transcend the barrier of time and the hurdles of archaic language. Poe manages this pretty well, too.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (another Big Shot Writer)
Astounding, also, is the number of writers who have specialized in, or written exclusively, short stories. Heed the following roll call: O'Connor, H.H. Munro (Saki), Poe, Hawthorne, Bradbury, de Maupassant, Doyle, Henry, but to name a few. Additionally, writers perhaps better known for their novels, such as Borges, Chekhov, Conrad, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, Oats, du Maurier, and Tolstoy contributed mightily to the short fiction realm. When I contemplate the undeniable fact that literary giants such as these believed the short story a worthwhile endeavor, I am heartened to persevere at my modest endeavors.

As I confided to Bridgid and her brother one day: If I only had one story, just one, that ended up being read twenty-five or fifty years from now, or even better, was made mandatory reading in some college class (hopefully one taught by my son; wouldn't that be sweet justice?), I would feel that I had accomplished something. Clearly I'm not in it for the money, though God knows I wouldn't be amiss to a few whopping big paychecks (I give to a lot to charities, you see). So for all of you, my short fiction brethren, take heart and keep writing as we, too, can become big shot writers! Don't let the narrow marketing field discourage you. After all, we write because of our love of the word and, in my case at least, in order to entertain, at my own expense of course, my wonderful children and wife.

As a postscript, I would like to bring your attention back to my photo at the top of the page. You may notice, though it has been subtly framed, that I am holding a really big book of short stories. Now that I have an even bigger one which includes a bunch of foreign authors too, I intend to have another taken. Julian assures me that there's no chance I could look any more pompous with his bigger book, but I'm willing to give it a try even so. He suggests a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches might just do the trick.

I think a pipe would help, as well.

15 November 2011

Greetings From The Jersey Shore

by David Dean
Jersey ShoreThe title of this posting should give you a clue as to where I live, though I fear it may also induce acute nausea in those of you who have been exposed to the reality television version of this area.  It can get bad here during the heady summer months, but perhaps not that bad.  In any event, there are those of us who find the Shore (not beach or coast or seaside) a very fine place to live.  It also gave me a career, after the army, of rounding up and knuckling down on the hi-jinks and high spirits of such as the "Jersey Shore" crowd when they crossed the line.  This could be satisfying.
I didn't start out to be policeman; it just worked out that way.  In fact, I'm not even from the Garden State, but from that very close relative somewhat to the south, Georgia.  However, the die was cast when I met and married my own Jersey Girl, who could not be less like... Pookie, is it?  Honestly...Pookie?  I ask ya?  Had that unlikely scenario occurred; instead of writing this today I would probably be serving a very long sentence in a very small room.  However, I struck lucky, and Robin and I have been together for most of our lives.  But it was she that got me here.

For nearly seven years I dragged her and the kids across the states and over to Europe as part of my stint in the army.  For those of you who have spent any time in the military with a family, you'll know what I mean when I say it was hard...very hard.  So with the kids still young we made the decision to get out and I further agreed to her wish to be close to her parents.  It seemed the least I could do. 

But even that I couldn't quite get right--I couldn't find work in the area where her parents lived and we were fast running out of money!  A friend of mine who lived  in South Jersey (the natives make a very big deal about the distinction between north and south here) called me and invited me to visit and look for work at the 'Shore'.  I did, and walked into a job as a cop.  I say walked in, but in reality I competed against a pool of several hundred (mostly locals) and came out as one of two who were sent on to the Police Academy.  It was a miracle--the last of my army paychecks had just run out and we were saved!  And it was more of a miracle than I even realized at the time.  I found I loved police work and that I had somehow landed in just the right place for me and my family.  We even bought a house (a very tiny house, but a house); life was getting good.

The police profession treated me well, and Robin went on to get a full time position as a kindergarten teacher, where she still is.  To this day I have little kids run up to me, point, and say, "You're Mrs. Dean's husband!"  Like that's some big deal.  Before my retirement I would point at my badge and answer, "Oh yeah, well I'm also the police chief around here!"  This usually elicited a second and more emphatic exclamation of, "You're Mrs. Dean's husband!"  Alright already...I get it...don't you have parents?

Somewhere along the road I was taking some college courses and found myself in an arts appreciation class (mandatory, don't you know) and my final project was to produce a work of art.  "Art?" says I.  "I can't draw."  "What can you do?" says the professor with a small challenging smile.  He had seen my kind before.  "Uh..." thinking hard...thinking very hard.  "Maybe I could write something," I offer.  His expression shifted over to one of subtle doubt.  "Okay," says he.  I did, and produced my first story.  Not surprisingly, it was about a patrolman at the Jersey Shore, and in this tale, one attempting to apprehend a particularly violent burglar.  I drew the details from a case I had worked.  The prof liked it and said I should submit it to a magazine, which I did, and "The See-Through Man" (1990) became my first published story with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and also the beginning of a long and satisfying relationship with that august publication...except for the fact that sometimes my stories are turned down.  I don't like to say 'rejected' because that sounds so unsatisfyingBut I don't want to dwell on that here...maybe later...in a more tearful posting (bring hankies).

So now I am retired, and find myself joining the assembled company of SleuthSayers and friends.  Some of the staff writers here I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting through Criminal Brief; others I have met while out and about in our small world.  I hope to provide some useful service by my scribblings, if only to amuse you ("What...I amuse you?") or at the very least, not to embarrass myself or others.  But if I don't manage it, just turn the page (figuratively in this case) and move on, as this is the judgement and sentencing that all writers must bear if they fail to keep up their end of the bargain.



So with that, "I'll catch youse later (as they say around here)."

30 October 2011

My Uncle the Bootlegger


by Louis Willis

My uncle, the younger of my mother’s two brothers, nicknamed “Belly,” was a bootlegger. He sold moonshine in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. He bought the moonshine in half gallon jars from the men who made it back in the hills and hollows of East Tennessee and brought it to the city where he sold it by the pint and half pint. To my uncle and the other Black bootleggers, bootlegging was a business, and they considered themselves businessmen, not criminals. 

The police, who admired my uncle for his ability to evade capture when other bootleggers were often caught, gave my uncle the nickname of “Whiskers” because he wore a large beard. He was tall, lean, handsome, medium brown skin and spoke in a low voice, even when angry. I think the fact that, at six feet, two inches, he was the tallest member in our family makes him stand out in my memory. 

I have no direct memory of the family story of how the police used my uncle to test the rookies. Two officers in a patrol car would bring the rookie into the neighborhood, wait until they spotted my uncle, then let the rookie out of the patrol car, and the foot race was on. My uncle never had moonshine or a gun on him, which made me think, in later years, the situation was prearranged. None of the rookies ever caught him because my uncle had the advantage of knowing the neighborhood. For me, the story shows how the White policemen used my uncle like the mechanical rabbit employed to get racing dogs to run. The police, however, respected my uncle and tried to get him to join the force. He refused because he didn’t want to arrest his friends, and especially his brother.

I remember a funny incident involving one of the Black policemen’s  attempt to catch my uncle, not by chasing him, but by outsmarting him, because I saw it happen. Only 3 or 4 Black men were on the city police force. One of them, I’ll call him GV, was a mean SOB and would arrest anyone he thought was breaking the law.

The part of the GV story I know from other family members suggests he didn’t like my uncle and considered him an embarrassment to the Black community. He decided he was the man to catch him. He didn’t know that the Black beat patrolman had warned my grandmother, and she had warned my uncle, who was watching for GV, as was others in the neighborhood. 

Looking across our backyard from our kitchen window, I could see the back of Doll Flats and the outdoor toilets attached to each flat. The doors of the toilets could be locked with latches on the inside and the outside. The toilets could be approached from the north through the space between our house and the house on the east side of ours, and from south through the space between Doll Flats and the back of the flats that were perpendicular to Doll Flats.
On the day the incident, I watched from the kitchen window as GV, who was not in uniform, approached from the south, entered the first toilet, and locked the door. From inside the toilet, you could see the back of our house through the cracks between the door and the door frame. Just before GV entered the toilet, I saw my uncle tiptoeing between Doll Flats and the back of the house next door to ours. He stopped, peeked around the corner of the flats, and saw GV enter the toilet. 

He left, and I next saw him ease around the south corner of the flats and throw the outside latch of the toilet GV was in. He strolled pass the toilet, looked back when he heard GV trying to open the door, smiled, and kept walking.

I never learned how GV got out of the toilet. He was fired from the police force for doing the unthinkable: he started arresting White folks.

My uncle went legit when the county became wet in the late 1960s or early 1970s. He already had a business selling kindling wood. He opened a store from which he sold sodas, candy, cookies, and beer. Strangely, he did not sell whiskey. He died of a heart attack in 1988 after discovering someone had broken into the store. I always thought he died of a broken heart because he believed no one would ever rob him since if anyone wanted something he would give it to them on credit. He was not aware that the new, drug dealing, drug using generation didn’t ask; they took.

26 September 2011

From 375 SQ Feet in 180 Days or Less

by Jan Grape

I’ll admit I was reasonably happy living in my 30 ft. 5th wheel RV with my two 14 year old cats, Nick and Nora, when my daughter, Karla, said she wanted to buy me a house. “Buy me a house?” said I. “I barely have energy enough to clean this trailer, how the heck will I be able to keep a house clean?”

“But, Mom. Just think how awesome it will be to live in a nice house, decorated with plants and nice pictures and nice furniture. You can have a real bathroom without dealing with emptying the black water tank. You won’t have to worry if your propane tank is going to run empty in the middle of the week-end and a Blue Norther is swooping down from Amarillo. You can have a washer and dryer and not have to use the laundromat at the RV park."

“Hmm.” She did make it sound enticing. Except all I could think of was vacuuming, mopping and dusting all that knick-knack sh** that I knew she wanted to decorate with to make the house look awesome. “But a house, a whole house. I’m just not sure.”

“Okay,” she said, “but you think about it and I’m flying down there next week and we’ll look around.”

My daughter came down from Nashville, where she lives, to Central Texas where I was happy as a lark in my RV and guess what? We found a great house, she and her hubby bought it and I moved in the last week in August. And I love it. Three bedrooms, two baths, a fire place, a bay window and a kitchen island. It’s decorated with plants, super pictures, positive sayings, and all that knick-knack stuff that make a place warm and awesome.

My late husband, Elmer and I had semi-retired in 1990, then decided to open a mystery bookstore. Mysteries and More was a wonderful store, and we featured our local Austin and Texas area mystery writers. Mysteries, because that was my first love and I was also writing mysteries.

In 1999, Elmer and I decided to retire and follow our dream of traveling the west and southwest so we sold-out the bookstore, bought a 5th wheel and took off for New Mexico and points west. We spent three summers traveling and coming back to Austin to our house, then decided to give up the house and live in the RV full time. We enjoyed every minute of it and so did Nick and Nora, who you might suspect were named after The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora Charles.

I’d penned a Private Eye novel in the mid-eighties but it wasn’t good enough to be published although I did get close a couple of times. In the late-eighties I published a couple of short stories in a small subscription magazine that paid in copies. I was writing a column for Mystery Scene magazine, did interviews and wrote book reviews. Soon I began selling stories to Ed Gorman, Marty Greenberg and Bob Randisi for anthologies. The ones for Ed and Marty were for theme anthologies; the Cat Crime Series, holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day, White House Pets, etc. For Bob Randisi who founded Private Eye Writer’s of America: stories for Deadly Allies and Lethal Ladies. In 1998, I won an Anthony for Best Short Story, “A Front Row Seat,” in the Vengeance is Hers anthology, which was also nominated for a Shamus award.

Dean James and I co-edited Deadly Women which had articles, interviews and stories by and about women mystery authors. We were nominated for an Edgar, an Agatha and a macavity. We won the macavity, given by Mystery Reader’s International.

I sold my first mystery novel in 2000, titled Austin City Blue, featuring Zoe Barrow an Austin policewoman. It was nominated for an Anthony for Best First Novel. The second Zoe Barrow, Dark Blue Death came out in 2005, and in 2002, Five Star, my publisher, released a collection of my short stories titled, Found Dead In Texas.

Last September, my third mystery, What Doesn’t Kill You, a non-series book was published by Five Star.

In 2009, R. Barri Flowers and I co-edited, ACWL Presents: Murder Past, Murder Present, an anthology of stories written by members of the American Crime Writer’s League, published by Twilight Times. In April, 2012 our second anthology, Murder Here, Murder There will be released by Twilight Times. I have a short story in both.

“What does this all have to do with my moving?” you ask. For one thing, I now have a room that is going to be a real office. With “Going To Be” being the operative phrase here. After living in an RV for over nine years, I had accumulated more books, tablets, pens, reams of paper, etc., than you could imagine and now I’m slowly, very slowly trying to get the “office” set up.

This entailed getting internet access, which isn’t always easy or affordable in the TX Hill Country, getting my old computers set up and operational. It’s just NOT that easy for a person who has the cyber-technology skills of a horned toad to do.

However, having said, all that I’m delighted to be joining my fellow writers in this great new blogging adventure and look forward to seeing each of you readers every other Monday. My writing partner is Fran Rizer and I certainly expect her to keep me in line, online and on time. So y’all come back now, you hear?