Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Seems like writer's block hit me. Sometimes, a historic novel like Queen Of The Everglades just seems to fall together with little effort on my part. We were living in Hobe Sound, Florida, at the time when Dolores and I went on a short exploration adventure nearby to old downtown Stuart. We walked into a bookstore and... this rare old book was sitting on the shelf beckoning for my attention. I'd heard of the Ashley Gang who had been bootlegging booze from the Bahamas, robbing the Stuart bank, and even holding up a passenger train, so the book felt good tucked under my arm on the way home.
   Later that evening, I turned a few pages, and there was Laura Upthegrove. Odd coincidence that I had a 12 year old young girl as one of my 7th grade students who was a distant relative. I learned that Laura walked the streets of old downtown Stuart, Flordia with the gun in its holster just like you see her in this picture. Now, that sparked my imagination big time! Why would this lovely young lady be wearing a gun? What had happened to her to make her leave her husband and two children to take up with a known escaped convict, John Ashley, and his gang? I was reminded of the similarities between these two and the famous criminals of that time, Bonnie and Clyde. Look at her face. That's not the face of a hardened woman who's seen a rough life. Here she was in the middle of the Roaring 20's living the fast-paced life with booze and guns hiding out in the midst of  the Everglades. Just think that our Colony Street neighborhood was once considered to be part of a wilderness inhabited by alligators, racoons, and more mosquitoes than it has now ! So my historic research and novel writing began to fall together. There were still the gaps that had to be filled such as the reasons for leaving her husband and children. The only reason that I could see for Laura abandoning two children would be if there was abuse. From the abuse idea there had to be a point where she said to herself, "That's it! I'm not taking any more." Then I recalled the true story about a mountain lady who sewed up her husband in a bed sheet and beat the heck out of him. Laura headed into Stuart, boarded the train, and that's how she met John and his gang who were in the process of robbing the passenger train.
    Be wary of judging people who lived years ago with the same modern standards we live by in today's life. John Ashley and Laura lived in a different time in history. Laura's lover was a hunter and trapper in the Everglades. He and Seminole Tiger were partners, but they got into a dispute over the division of furs. John said the Seminole tried to kill him during the night. Later, when they found the  Indian's body, John was convicted of the crime. John's brother was killed in a shoot out trying to help John get out of prison. So, John and his gang set out on a life of crime assured that he was wrongly accused just like Jesse James.
       Hey! If you have an e-reader you can borrow the book from the Amazon library free OR it sells for $4 and  it's a darn good read. Download the Kindle for the PC from Amazon, and you can read it on your computer. OR if you just love to hold a "real book" (Dolores says) then you'll have to pay a bit more. After you've read the book, go to Amazon and write a review. I appreciate your criticism and want to work toward writing more good books.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Celebrate With Me !



On July 27th of this year I will be 19 years cancer-free after a serious Whipple operation "Pancreaticoduodenectomy" in 1994. My wife, Dolores, got the telephone call from the doctor that I had cancer. She came into the bathroom to tell me while I was sitting on the toilet. As she said the words, "He said you have cancer..." the toilet throne spit in half from top to bottom.  While water and ...(you know what) spewed all over we sat on the edge of the bed and laughed and cried. The operation took 7 hours and I had 5 or 6 rubber hoses sticking out of my stomach for both food and drainage. I recall how the cancer ward nurses hovered over me like guardian angels.

 My Christian faith sustained me through all of this because I dreaded the removal of each hose, each IV replacement, and every blood test. I prayed constantly and it did seem to help - especially on the last hose (the "G tube" I think they called it) was removed by a woman doctor who confided, "I've never done this before." All the other doctors had assured me "this won't hurt". Well, like heck it didn't hurt when they pulled a tube out. I prayed... and she began pulling. I think she was praying too. Our prayers worked! It didn't hurt.
Dolores also learned to become a nurse as our vocabulary included terms like "Oncology" and IV's and ICU.” At the same time she was forced to learn where the hospital cafeteria was located- while stuff like that was left to husbands. One time she caught me just as I was headed toward the floor in a faint. The staff immediately hung a sign above my bed and I was labeled for life:
I kept a copy of the notes she took, but just seeing them again brings tears to my eyes:
 She also learned how to care for the tubes the doctors had placed in my stomach and to keep them clean. I watched her trembling hands pour meat tenderizer down the tube to try to get it unstuck. My poor wife was constantly emptying yucky bags of stuff or cleaning a deep wound in my stomach that had to heal from the bottom upward.
As far as learning nurse stuff, you can add to that her excellent job of  head holding. If I were to complain about wife-service during this time in my convalescence, it would have to been because of a hospital rule which required that you weren’t allowed to go home until you pooped. Now, you'd think a wife would poop for you so you could claim it as your own and get outta’ that place, but no way!
Recovery time at home was slow. One thing about cancer is if you're interested in weight loss the reduction is drastic. From 165+ I dropped down to about 125 lbs. I was forced to drink a lot of stuff like Ensure, Jell-O, oatmeal, and bland things. I couldn't wait to get my teeth into a gooey Éclair. At first food didn't taste so good.
 Later, I went back in the ER several times with diarrhea and vomiting. Something was wrong. Finally went back to hospital where my Oncologist put together a team of doctors to help me. One of these was an infection control man who found out that I had 7 different microbes working on me. He solved the problem with heroic does of antibiotics and stuff called Bioxen that caused me to have "Redman's Syndrome" - ugh!
              At home our air conditioner is broken and a tropical storm flooded the street deep enough for boat traffic. The Visiting Nurse can’t make it to the house for several days. My Oncologist has found a suspicious spot on my spleen. They can’t do a biopsy on the spleen to see if it’s cancer. It’ll have to be removed. Maybe the cancer is back. The court suggests that the girls might be given permission to go back to live with their mother, our granddaughters say they’d rather stay with their dad. My depression sets in.  My body is not the one I know. My thoughts spiral downward caught in sewer of morbid thoughts.

Back to the hospital. I’m angry and snap at Dolores. Then guilty for all she’s done for me. I’ve been the taker and she’s been the giver. She holds my head and we both cry. An old Army nurse walked in and suggested that I, “Tough it out!” I’m angry at that comment until a gray-haired black cleaning lady who had overheard added sympathetically, “It’ll be alright, honey.” I fought back the tears and smiled weakly. The doctor assures us that pills will help me coup with this down mood, but her words are meaningless. How can a pill help solve my kind of problems?
 We ended up going back to the teaching hospital where 30+ other doctors looked at my records and concurred that an  spleenectomy was needed. As it turned out, the mark on the spleen was a collection of blood vessels "hemotosis?", but I'm glad we no longer had the cloud hanging over us of possible problem of another spot of cancer again.
      These 19 years have indeed been a gift from God. I've been able to chop wood, do gardening, paint the house, travel to exotic places, and enjoy a normal healthy life.
      There had been a certain assurance knowing ok I'm going to die from cancer. I faced that fact and surprisingly, because of my faith, was able to accept this knowledge, speak of my own death with others, and still feel confident that I belonged to Jesus and could rely on His promises. All those words from sermons, bible stories, the psalms, and the hymns came flooding back to bolster this belief. "Just as I am...", "Rock of Ages...", and "A Mighty Fortress..." took on a whole new meaning. With certainty I am able to say there is a "Peace that surpasses all understanding" for those who open their hearts. I'm sharing this with you because it brought me peace and made sense out of this nonsensical life we live. If this is not true then we are indeed lost. For me the answer is, why not take the gamble that there is a God? If there is.......... make a commitment and get off the fence!
What did we learn from all this?
•         Dolores and I have a new appreciation of one another. Love is not just a teen-age romp in the back of the car, it’s more of a self-sacrifice for a soul-mate who has chosen to be with you for the rest of their life. Add in the blending of souls - true, "the two shall become one."
•         The evil of cancer was not the doing of this Creator of harmony. . Each year is a gift for being together… a blessing from a loving God. I’ve been cancer free for 18 years. For me, my Christian faith provided a mainstay where my spirit clung to the thin thread of hope. In the face of death all those hymns, words from the Psalms, Bible verses we memorized as children, bits and pieces of sermons…all come together with clarity in meaning.
•         Depression is your own worst enemy. It’s bad enough trying to fight back with a weakened body. Add a weakened mental resolve, destroy hope, see death as relief and your odds for survival are diminished. Proper medical treatment will reduce this threat.
•         We want to be in control. It’s our body and we know what it needs cause we’ve been inside it for such a long time. HOWEVER, you are not a doctor so listen to your mother, “Stop playing doctor! ” It’s just going to get you in trouble. Do try to find the best there is for treating your particular problem – a Board Certified doctor,  a hospital that has cutting-edge technology, and an experienced medical staff who have successfully dealt with this hundreds of your kind of cases.
•         Most people care. People who work in a hospital are there cause they care. Why would you want to make their lives more difficult by complaining constantly about little things? You know that people work best when they’re appreciated and praised and thanked for the work they do. Why not take time to thank the person who delivered your food tray? Did it diminish you to smile at a nurse or take time to listen?
•         I’ve learned that all of life’s problems can’t be solved to our liking. Bad things happen to good people. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you are perfect. We all do dumb things and make mistakes. We still have to face trouble, but it sure is comforting to know there is someone who will help you when you’re down near the valley in the shadow of death being crushed from all sides. When hope is gone you’re being pulled down in the sewer. You can’t control it all by yourself because you’re “Fall Prone.”
      My cancer problem was just a portion of how the "roof fell in" for our family.  Like Job it seemed like everything was falling apart in my life at that moment. It's so easy to blame God and to ask "Why?" Remember, God didn't create evil. We did. We can search for hidden cures, witches' brews guaranteed to cure cancer, and blame others - these are just a few of the ways to avoid the direct answer and the fear of death.
        After a while I got back to church for the first time after the operation. The Pastor greeted me and said how the congregation had prayed for my recovery. I responded, "It's good to be back in the land of the living." A few moments later the scheduled Psalm 116 was read. In part it says; 

"...for you have rescued my life from death, my eyes from  tears, and my feet from stumbling. I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living."
 Was that ever a message from God!
       So you see, I am now your messenger from God. My job is to share this experience with  you with the talent and skills He gave me. In turn, please share this with your loved ones who are in fear and assure them that it is possible to survive if you hold on to hope and the knowledge that no matter what, Jesus will see you through the shadows when you walk through the valley of death. If then you should die, rejoice in the fact that you have indeed been redeemed to live an eternal life with those faithful saints who have gone on ahead. The pathway is there before you and He has never left your side.
          Vaya con Dios!  Go with God !