Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Danny Died On Monday

The panicky telephone call came about eleven PM on Monday. On the other end the woman's voice was erratic, tear choked, and hysterical.

"Can you come over? Oh God, I think he's gone!"

Throwing on clothes over pajamas, I rushed to the house next door to find Danny's wife Irma shaking, crying, and hysterical. Danny lay on the couch, eyes closed, ashen grey and not breathing. CPR had no apparent effect but was continued for the few minutes until the medics arrived to take over. After that, all that could be done was to comfort Irma and assist in making telephone calls. Within the hour a doctor at the local hospital pronounced Danny dead of apparent heart failure. A family's world fell apart.

Danny was a great neighbor. He wasn't a close friend, but he was a great neighbor. My requests to borrow tools or for help with some project were always met cheerfully. Sometimes even when I didn't ask, he would offer. I would hear a mower in the backyard and go to the window to see Danny go by on his tractor. There were no property lines, it was all just grass to Danny. He was that kind of guy.

From the covered patio of his corner house the sound of loud voices and raucous laughter frequently echoed through the neighborhood. Danny seemed to host an odd conglomeration of co-workers from the local university, neighbors, relatives, and some who were probably just 'show-ups'. The beer flowed freely as did the laughter. Eventually the locals designated him as 'The Mayor', holding court on any warm afternoon, and adding spirit to the neighborhood.

Danny only knew how to be Danny, so you could take him or leave him, suit yourself. There were no pretexts, attitudes, or attempts to impress, just a genuine hard-working man with a receding hairline, a growing belly, a gap-toothed smile, and an infectuous laugh. His language was coarse and his jokes raunchy, but that was a part of him, so if you didn't care for it, well, your feet ain't set in cement.

Danny was fifty-eight years old and leaves behind a shattered wife, three grown daughters and a son who have all lost their peculiar anchor, and several grandchildren who are trying to make sense of it all. The funeral will be crowded, and a lot of tears will be shed. The funeral procession will be long and there will be trouble finding room for all of the cars at the small country cemetery.

'The Mayor' is gone and that loss will take a while to settle over the neighborhood. There will be an unusual quiet on the corner and a lot of people will notice the difference without really understanding why. Anheuser-Busch will have to lay off half of the second shift and not understand why. Goodbye 'Mr. Mayor', we miss you already.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Forest of Souls

I had occasion to visit my poor, neglected blog and realized that it has been three months since I made a post. Other writers seem to post something to their blogs on a regular basis, even if it is just a promo for a book. My blog is more about my thoughts and impressions of life and I only write a piece when I've been inspired by some more or less monumental thought. Thoughts of the monumental variety and even those of conventional scale seem to have largely escaped me these past three months. I guess that there are just times when not a lot happens in your life and this would seem to have been one of those times. The other thing is that I have been on a virtual blog tour with Dorothy Thompson of Pump Up Your Book Promotions and I have been doing interviews and blog posts on other peoples' blogs. Dorothy Thompson is a complete and total sweetheart and a dream to work with. She has her own personal blog as the "Boomer Chick" and it is greatly entertaining.

As a part of that tour I had written a piece about one of the places I had visited while doing research for Magnificent Man. The Saguaro National Park is outside of Tucson, Arizona and is the desert equivalent of a national forest. There is a scene in Magnificent Man where Coyote takes Cassandra to visit the souls. It is his belief that the souls of the departed dwell within the tens of thousands of tall saguaro cacti. The place is hot, dry, dusty, and dangerous, but it is hard not to become caught up in Coyote's belief. I call this post, "A Forest of Souls".


I started to write a romance novel that took place in the contemporary American southwest. The idea was there, the plot was forming, and the story was cruising along quite nicely until I hit a wall. My characters were in the stark and beautiful desert country of Arizona, but the problem was that I had never been there. Big problem. The day I had selected to fly to Tucson began as a disaster when the air traffic control computer at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport picked THAT day to crash. So now my ten A.M. flight became eleven-thirty and eventually left around two-fifteen. Oh well, welcome to modern travel. What I was not prepared for was my five P.M. flight to Tucson from Dallas-Fort Worth finally being cobbled together out of used plane parts at nine-thirty P.M. All told, a rather dubious start to an otherwise wonderful trip. The car rental desk in Tucson had graciously stayed open to make sure I actually had a car for my research trip, so somewhere around eleven P.M. I was speeding off into the still warm night.

So began my journey of research and discovery in the Arizona desert. During the following weeks I travelled to many places and frequently stood out as an obvious light-skinned stranger among people with deeply tanned skin and facial features and clothing that greatly differed from mine. Some spoke our language with a heavy accent, while others struggled to understand my words. The people were different, their way of life was different, and the land was very different from anything I had ever experienced. I remembered the old John Wayne and Randolph Scott western movies that had been filmed in some of the places that I visited, but it was all just so...different. It was hot, even in November, and dusty, and dry. The heat shimmered like water and the wind flowed slowly as if to conserve its energy. The flat land stretched for miles before crashing head long into the steep rock buttes and mountains. There were many places and people, not in the least glamorous, but deeply imbued with history and culture. It was impressive just to be in their presence.

Among the many places that I found striking was the Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson. It is a very modest place by national park standards; just a welcome center and a lot of desert. You don't have to pay, you simply turn off of an asphalt road onto a dirt road and drive slowly to avoid choking yourself in dust. On the day I was there, very few other vehicles came along allowing me the luxury of pulling off at leisure to become absorbed in the place. Here in the east we are very accustomed to forests of trees. Great stands of pine or hardwood trees that shade the forest floor. Everywhere in this park were cacti. Much of the low growth was a variety of spiky and spiny nastiness shaped like barrels, gangly whips, Mickey Mouse ears, fuzzy coral, and some that just defy description. I was very satisfied to get no closer than I was to any of it, and was most sincerely glad to have no reason to attempt to go through it. But dominating the land for acres, if not square miles, were the famous saguaro cactus (pronounced locally as su-WAR-o). These are the tall cacti that are the state symbol of Arizona. They grow slowly and can live for as much as two hundred years. After 75 to 100 years they can start to grow the iconic arms for which they are known. There I was among tens of thousands of the saguaro in a strange forest-like setting.

In Magnificent Man, Coyote, the hero, takes Cassandra to the saguaro land and tells her the story of the souls. He explains that each tall cactus represents the soul of a departed desert native. He becomes emotional while looking out at the immense number of saguaro and picturing within each the soul of one departed. The warriors, the women, the children, all still together in this desolate and hostile place, but finally at peace. A forest of souls.