web analytics

I have to say that the first three projects – part of my Five Year Home Improvement Plan, and supposed to have been spread out over the first six months or so of 2018 – have all come to completion in the space of three weeks and some days. This is a matter of some surprise to me. I was impatient of ever getting started on the Catio of Splendor, for which I bought the materials late in January. Neighborhood Handy Guy kept being delayed by other projects, and so in exasperation with this, I thought I would explore the cost of the next substantial item: a new roof, being that the old one was likely on it’s last gasp. I wanted an estimation for replacing the asphalt shingles with a standing seam metal roof, so that I could begin setting aside money for it. I went to the company which replaced the last roof, on the grounds that they had done a great job then, and that the owner of the company had lived just four doors away from me at the time of the Great Hailstorm of March, 2005. A good few of us opted for that company, seeing that we knew where the owner lived.  Practically everyone in the neighborhood got a new roof out of that storm, which featured violent hail the size of large and small marbles. I was informed at the time that the new roof would probably only be good for ten years; this was why I included a new roof in my Five-Year Plan.

The estimator brought out his ladder, camera and measuring tape, and after a short voyage onto the roof, informed me that not only was the 2005-installed roof much decayed, my house seems to have taken some damage from the tornado which struck a year ago. I didn’t note anything at that time, but some dead sticks brought down from the tree – all the substantial damage was done by that storm to houses a good third of a mile up the hill. But it appeared that something had whanged into my roof at top-speed, punched a gouge through the asphalt tiles and into the plywood underneath, and bounced over the roof-ridge, slightly denting the chimney top in the process. I should note that I slept entirely through this event, only waking up and hearing the thunder in the wee hours, and then going back to sleep again. It’s a gift, sleeping through stuff like this. Not the first time I have slept through interesting/momentous events.

The short version turns out to be that a standing-seam metal roof on my place would cost a bit north of $20,000, whereas a better grade of composition shakes would only be about $7,000, of which the insurance company would pick up all but the deductible. As the estimator prepared to depart, he asked, casually – if there was anything more he could do. I asked him to price out and estimate the cost of the covered back porch-catio, considering that I had already purchased the necessary materials, and I was tired of waiting to get on Neighborhood Handy Guy’s crammed work schedule. So – the Reliable Neighborhood Company’s bid for a replacement roof plus addition of Splendid Catio was … reasonable. This week I was on the schedule for the roof, which was knocked off in a day, starting first thing. Which actually meant ‘first thing’. They worked full-out, four or five Hispanic guys (of whom only one spoke colloquial English) and bashed it out by early evening – even to installing the rooster weathervane on the roof-peak over the garage. And better yet – on Thursday for Reliable Neighborhood Company’s carpenters to come and begin on the  Catio of Splendor. Which they did, on the dot of half-past eight, and had the corner support post installed before I even came back from walking the dogs. But Thursday was the first day of Summer Brutal Heat in Texas, so they knocked off in mid-afternoon, returning on Friday (also first thing) to finish installing the tin roof panels, and tying the whole thing into the existing new roof. Which I can totally understand and empathize with, as I agreed to paint the resulting structure over the weekend, so that the master carpenter can return – first thing on Monday, of course – to attach the heavy mesh hardware cloth which will enclose the Catio of Splendor, wall to wall, and hang the screen door. Everyone agreed – this would be better, painting the wooden frame-work, before attaching the hardware cloth. So – that was my project today, at which I could only last until about 3:00 or so. Drenched with sweat, splotched with paint, exhausted and dehydrated. I got it about three-quarters done. The rest tomorrow.

I understand there was some kind of big social bash on, early Saturday morning: an unemployed American actress (on a show I never watched) married an English veteran of the war in Afghanistan, from a family dependent on government payouts. Did I miss anything else, while painting the Catio of Splendor?

So … even as I am starting research on the American Revolution-era novel, I am moved to start on another —  about Minnie Templeton Vining, who was a peripheral character in Daughter of Texas, and in Sunset and Steel Rails.

A blue-stocking and a crusader, and … stuff. At mid-century, where there were a lot of things going on.

Enjoy. I don’t quite know where this will finish out … but Minnie is a ferocious abolitionist. And perhaps has other involvement in the Underground Railroad. It all depends…

 

Chapter 1 – A Lady of Leisure

 

A week after the reading of her father’s will, Minnie Templeton Vining sat in the old-fashioned parlor of her father’s tall house on Beacon Street with her sister-in-law Annabelle, while an errant spring breeze stirred the curtains … as well as the festoons of black crepe which adorned the façade of the Vining mansion. Narrow windows of the austere classical style that had been the height of architectural fashion early in the century now overlooked the broad avenue and leafy avenues and meadows of the Common and the public gardens beyond. The room within was furnished in the old manner; chairs, tables and shelves made in the austere style of two generations past, of polished wood sparingly ornamented, for the late Lycurgus Agrippa Vining resisted any change in the mansion in which he had ruled over as absolute dictator for half a century. The paintings and portraits, blue and white China trade porcelain, ranks of books in solid leather bindings, somber dark-red brocade upholstery, and very old-fashioned crewel-embroidered curtains – all testified at least as much to the wealth and pride of the family as to their magnificent disinclination to follow mere fashion … and thereby waste any portion of that wealth on transiently popular fripperies.

“So the house and a substantial income are yours to control absolutely!” Annabelle marveled, as she added sugar to the cup of tea which Minnie had poured from a silver pot which was one of the Vining’s treasured possessions, coming as it had from the workshop of the great Boston silver artisan, Paul Revere. In one of the account books in the old Judge’s study and library was preserved a bill made out in Revere’s own spidery handwriting, for that very teapot and a dozen silver spoons to be adorned with acorns and oak leaves.

“Indeed,” Minnie set down the teapot with a gentle clinking sound and took up her own refreshed cup. She was a confirmed spinster, being something somewhere in her fourth decade; a woman of decidedly firm opinions – and yet attractive to the eye for all of that, at least to those who entertained a taste for fine-boned features, and arresting blue-grey eyes, animated by a formidable and unsparing intelligence. “Cousin Peter is to be my trustee – but he is too sensible a man to attempt any thought of treating with me as if I were a silly child in need of correction and protection.”

“I should say not!” Annabelle chuckled. “One might very well try to rope and ride one of those wild bison creatures of the plains. Your dear brother – my late husband – told me such a tale of the President of Texas shooting one of those dreadful beasts in the streets of the capitol of that benighted place!” The humor briefly departed from Annabelle’s pleasant countenance. She was a slender woman of about forty years, the same age as Minnie – and like Minnie, garbed in the darkest black of mourning for father and father-in-law. They had been friends since their earliest childhood, indulged by their parents, friends of the heart, as well as of marital and distant blood connections. And Annabelle was a Saltinstall connection, which counted for something in Boston.

“My brother had many tales to tell of his travels,” Minnie acknowledged, although she held deep in her heart the one which she would never distress Annabelle by telling – of that low-bred woman in farthest Texas, the one who had cohabitated with her youngest brother, and bred four nasty brats with him, or perhaps some other man, no matter what her brother claimed was a proper marriage in that benighted place. That was a deathbed secret and confession she would take to her own grave, rather than distress Annabelle with revealing it. Annabelle was his wife in the eyes of the law and of Boston. That woman in Texas was a nobody and of no character at all. Annabelle – dear, innocent Annabelle – deserved a measure of peace of mind, if not happiness, in the wake of a marriage-not-marriage to a husband who was never present in Boston but always gone on interminable ocean voyages and travels in a vain attempt to recover his health.

“Telling the absolute truth can often be a brutal cruelty,” her father, Judge Vining was wont to say. “Consider well the costs of relieving your own conscience, Minerva, if that cost comes at the expense of another’s peace of mind and happiness.”

“He did, indeed,” Annabelle smiled, ruefully. Her husband – Minnie’s youngest brother – was dead some eight years past, in this very house. The consumption took him, painfully, on his final return. Minnie did not like to think of that even now, or the embarrassing situation which had brought him home for that one last time. “You were such an angel, Minnie – nursing him through those last awful days. Need I say again how grateful I was for that? It was all such a tangle – Sophia having just married, and in such difficulty with her first child. It was all that I could do to attend on my dearest little girl, night and day … I feared so much for her! Richard was a treasure in her travails, of course – but a husband is not so attentive as a mother – or a sister would be!”

“It is what we do, my dear – for those whom we love,” Minnie replied, whereupon her sister-in-law sighed.

“So we do, Minnie,” and her expression brightened with genuine curiosity. “Now – that you are a spinster of independent means, and your dear father is enjoying his heavenly reward; what will you do with yourself, and this establishment?”

Minnie set down her teacup and regarded the parlor; hers and hers alone, to do with as she thought fit. This was a heady feeling, and Minnie longed to stretch her wings and soar, soar on the pleasant updraft of a generous income and control over it, after two decades and more of being bound by obligation to family. Truth to tell, she had not minded all that very much. Papa-the-Judge (for so she always thought of him) may have been a magisterial and terrifying parent to his sons, employees, and those brought before him at the Bar, but his only daughter had always had an especially affectionate bond with her father. Her mother – dead in childbirth with her – had been the Judges’ second wife for a brief time.

“A clever woman,” Papa-the-Judge had often said, on those rare occasions when he had been moved to speak of such personal things. “Bold as brass, fearless – she was a spy in the late war, Minnie – did I tell you of that?”

“Yes, you did, Papa – often,” Minnie had replied.

During his last days on this earth, Papa-the-Judge had often patted her hand, at the conclusion of maundering about in his reminiscences, and promised, “Well, then, Minnie – you are to be well-provided for, my girl, since you aren’t inclined to matrimony. I’ll have Peter as your advisor, but he’s a sensible man. Have seen too it, y’see. The only intelligent female child of my blood … the image of your mother. She was a spy, you know. Carried messages for Doctor Warren’s network, back in the day when the bloody Lobsterbacks. Bold as brass, although she was only a bit of a child when I first lay eyes on her … she would want to see you holding to your own independency”

“I know, Papa,” Minnie would answer. She knew very well that she was the image of her mother. There was a small framed portrait painted on ivory in Papa-the-Judge’s monumental desk, secreted in one of the small drawers, which Minnie knew the secret to opening. When she was younger, she had often compared the painted features to her own, reflected in the small elaborate glass mirror which hung opposite the window in Papa-the-Judge’s study. And in any case – Cousin Peter, and others who had known her mother had often commented on the likeness.

No, she would not change the parlor, or Papa-the-Judge’s library, or even all that much about the house. All too dear and familiar, and now it was all to be hers, to order as she liked … but Minnie felt a restlessness in her. It was, she thought, like one of Annabelle’s songbirds, looking out from an elaborate silver cage, to which the door was open, wanting to spread her wings … yet wondering if she yet dared.

Yes. She did. Minnie sipped from her own teacup, and then set it down again with a tiny, decisive clink against the saucer.

“I have decided to go traveling,” she announced. “Oh, not terribly far, Annabelle – just as far as Charleston, and then for a stay in Richmond in Virginia. Cousin Peter has kin by marriage in Charleston. His daughter and her husband ministers – he is in orders, you know –  to a very respectable parish in Richmond. They have written, extending their hospitality. I am of a mind to accept. Would you like to accompany me? I would welcome your companionship.”

“For how long, do you plan to remain abroad from Boston?” Annabelle regarded Minnie with an anxious expression, and Minnie smiled in a manner calculated to reassure.

“Not terribly long – for the length of the summer, and return in time to celebrate Little Richie’s birthday, of course. It is …” and Minnie sighed. “My dear, I long to escape these walls for a time, and refresh my soul by gazing on new vistas. I beg you to accompany me, for the sake of respectability. And …” she shot her sister-in-law a severe glance. “It would be energizing for the both of us. We are both allowed a certain considerable degree of freedom by our status as widow and spinster? Why not explore, as far as we are allowed by the strictures of decent society? Why should we be kept mewed up in our little tiny parlors, like falcons wearing blinding hoods, when we might soar?”

“Because …” Annabelle began, irresolutely, and Minnie couldn’t keep herself from snorting.

“Because, fiddlesticks. I have a purse and the inclination, and I want to do something other than sit in my parlor, see that the maids dust the furniture properly and take calls on my at-home day. There is a larger world and great causes to fight for, Annabelle – shouldn’t we begin claiming parts of it for our own, rather than just live as silly simpering angels in the house?” She fixed her sister-in-law with her most ferociously-determined expression, and – as Minnie had been certain that she would – Annabelle crumbled.

“Of course, I will accompany you,” her sister-in-law yielded with a sigh. “But … have you set a date for commencing this … this project of yours. And … I suppose I shall not require any winter things in my trunks…”

“Next month, I think,” Minnie replied, in secret relief. “I shall have to see to the arrangements, and consult with Cousin Peter, of course. But oh!” she smiled and took Annabelle’s hand in her joyful embrace. “It will be such fun!”

 

Meet Matilda – who is modeling a red-checked dress with a lace-trimmed pinafore – the first of the 18-inch doll outfits for the fall market season

I am not entirely taken up with home and garden renovations, these days – oh, dear, no. Between reading tomes about our very dear American Revolution, I am trying to clear out my stock of sewing scraps. The Daughter Unit has been asking me (with heavier and heavier emphasis) to do sewing projects for those events where we have a booth at an arts-n-crafts do. Yea these many decades ago, I had a small craft sideline in doing Cabbage Patch doll clothes for base craft fairs. Sold them from the trunk of my car, they were that popular, in the months after a Christmas market event. But that was … err … quite a good few years ago. I still have a small stock of them, as a matter of fact, and have attempted without any particular success, to sell that remainder at various recent markets. I fear that Cabbage Patch dolls, after having been the doll-fave in the last century, are now a back-number, of interest only to obscure collectors.

But the Daughter Unit, having noticed a vendor booth at a couple of market events last year, stocked full of American Girl doll-clothes, and observing that the American Girl line (plus any number of other 18-inch doll knockoffs) are now extremely popular, ventured in her artless manner – ‘Hey, Mom – you should start doing doll-clothes again! Bet there’s a market!’ Likely there is –  much more than there would be these days for Cabbage Patch dolls.

Having done enough for the time being in the way of vintage-style costumes, middle-aged-authors for the use of, I have turned to reviewing my bag o’ scraps and cutting American Girl-sized outfits from the most suitable of them. The Amazon Vine program inadvertently aided this by offering me, gratis-but-for-the-chore-of-writing-a-review, an 18-inch doll, an American Girl knock-off, the advertising for which included the intelligence that American Girl clothing and shoes will fit this doll. I sent for the doll to use as mannequin and downloaded a bunch of the original American Girl classic pattern assortments …there are collectors and enthusiasts who have scanned the half-dozen original pattern sets and made them available on-line. (Their main benefit is that, as nearly as I can tell, they don’t use much yardage – so excellent for piecing out from scraps. Scraps of which I have, in plenty. Odd bits of lace, trim and ribbons as well. And they call for Velcro for closures, which is kind of tacky, but way less complicated production-wise than using snaps, or buttons.) My early concern was that – would they actually fit the doll? After cutting about twenty or thirty outfits from the patterns, I thought that, yeah – better make absolutely certain of that.

And they do. I seamed one of the outfits together and fitted it onto the sample doll … whose’ name will be Matilda, by the way (although her trade name from the original manufacturer is Serena) – and they fit, quite nicely. There are a heap of art markets coming up this fall – and some which involve this kind of craft as well. I really want to reduce the scrap-bag, I am not averse to spending hours over a sewing machine … and besides, Matilda and her 18-inch child doll friends need pretty outfits. Pretty, modest, and traditional outfits, I should also add. The little sideline in doll clothes will be titled and advertised as “Matilda’s Portmanteau” during the coming market season, whenever we do a strictly arts and crafts market.

Well, a project progress report, seeing that one of the semi-big projects on my list of home-improvement items has been accomplished – and bountifully, at that. Well, it did run to about $300 more in labor and $200 more in stuff – specifically a wall-mounted mirror, a faucet set, and a glass shelf – than I had initially anticipated. But the small bathroom renovation is complete and gorgeous! Well, once the glass shelf arrives, courtesy of Amazon and UPS, it will be complete. I began working on the bathroom after I got back from Houston, at the middle of April – scraping disgusting wads of soluble plaster and popcorn texture off the ceiling, and alternately, those last bits of paint from off the concrete floor, while awaiting the convenience of Neighborhood Handy Guy. Neighborhood Handy Guy boogies to the beat of a different drummer, when it comes to a schedule, I’m afraid. When he says, “I’ll be over first thing!” it could mean anywhere between 8:30 and noon. When he says, “I’ll be over today!” it could be any time from mid-morning to late afternoon. This charming eccentricity is forgiven by neighborhood clients because he does amazingly good work (carpentry, tile-work, fixture-installation, painting, etc.) being a perfectionist at heart, and that his charges for labor are … well, let’s just say they are reasonable. Especially if you do some of the work, assist him, and purchase the necessary. So reasonable that he is in constant demand – another reason for being patient. So – two weeks of work from Neighborhood Handy Guy, including trips to the local Lowe’s outlet, first to pick up the pedestal sink and the new toilet, the paint, tile for floor and sink surround, good sturdy planks for a shelving unit, baseboards and trim, subsequently to collect other items as required … and now the bathroom is finished. Yay! (Pictures below. The room is so small that it’s impossible to back up far enough to take pictures encompassing the whole … and the paint color is more of a white with a pink tinge than the sort of Pepto Bismol shade that it looks under flash.)

It’s amazing how much roomier it seems, now with a nice pedestal sink, and with a custom, if simple and unadorned shelving unit installed. The original vanity was contractor-grade, and so shoddy that I bashed it apart myself with an ordinary hammer and consigned it to the gargantuan wheelie-trash-bin without any untoward exertion. And my place was built by a reputable company: homes built by the really fly-by-night builders must be equipped with cabinets built with heavy cardboard, and fixtures constructed from soda straws and heavy tinfoil.

It’s only the very first item on my Five-Year To-Do, though. I am awaiting the call from the roofing and remodeling company, in service to the second item – initial construction of the Catio and in association with that project, a new roof. Sometime in late May, early June, I think. Then the garage door – and that is dependent on sorting out all the crap in the garage, much of which is the Daughter Unit’s. She came home from her last station at Cherry Point and when her hold baggage arrived, it was all unloaded into the garage. The master bath reno must wait until after Christmas. Sigh. Another week of scraping popcorn gunk off the ceiling awaits me at that point. And likely at least three weeks of waiting every day for Neighborhood Handy Guy to appear and work his home-renovation magic. Until then, I solace myself by going down the hall, opening the door, and basking in the retro-charm of the finished small bathroom.

So – given the principle that a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a lengthy post of pictures, taken today in my tiny suburban garden/farm:

All righty, then — A Half Dozen of Luna City is put to bed, both print and ebook versions! The sixth Luna City chronicle goes on sale on the 30th of this month, although the Kindle version will soon be available for pre-order! – from the back cover blurb:

Welcome to Luna City, Karnes County, Texas … Population 2,456, give or take … Business at the Luna Café & Coffee is looking up for fugitive former celebrity chef Richard Astor-Hall. The owners – elderly schoolteacher Miss Letty, and the irascible Doc Wyler have approved hiring another cook and expanding hours at the Café. Joe Vaughn, chief of the tiny Luna City Police Department, is coping with the demands of parenthood … and both he and local ace reporter Kate Heisel are deep into untangling the mystery of a very old skeleton unearthed in construction of a brand-new facility at Mills Farm, the upscale resort just down the road.

23. April 2018 · Comments Off on Markets and All · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings

The Daughter Unit and I are looking ahead already, although it is still technically spring and so a bit early, one might assume, to start planning our marketing season. We have historically done a lot of business in the last quarter of the year, a matter in which we have a lot in common with fixed-location retailers. No, it is not too early; these sorts of things take lots of planning on the part of organizers. I have already sent in an application for the Giddings Word Wrangler, for example – an event which won’t happen until September. I have already gotten a communication from the organizers of the New Braunfels Weinachstmarkt – something that won’t happen until November, and this year, will happen without me. They have decided to drop the Texas Author Hall and convert the spaces in the corridor of the Civic Center (previously available for a reasonable sum to writers and publishers) to regular vendor booths. Which cost several times what we are prepared to shell out, even for a three-day-long event – so, that’s another weekend to fill, in the Christmas shopping season.

There is word through the Texas Association of Authors, of a street festival/market in Comfort, in October or so, which might prove interesting to pursue. There is twice-yearly market in Bulverde, which has always been good to us – and at a reasonable table fee, which is made even better for the two of us being able to split it: my books, the Daughter Unit’s origami art. The Bulverde C of C, though – has had to find another site for their market, as the strip-mall parking lot formerly used now has too many popular businesses along the fringe … so they have cancelled the Spring market, and hope to go all out in the Fall, in a new location. The Author Corral in Goliad has always been good for me – save that one year when the temperatures dropped into the low Twenties with strong winds pushing the temperatures even lower. Yes – that was particularly horrible, for everyone, but as there is no charge for the Author Corral, all we were out was time and gas.

Last year we were contemplating Dickens on Main in Boerne; an evening event and rather pricy as these things go, but the few regular monthly markets we ventured in Boerne did not pan out as well as expected, and we were too late to get a place at the Johnson City Courthouse lightening. Johnson City only charged a small fee – but we had to stay two nights at an RV park, rather than risk an hour drive late at night, what with drunks and suicidal deer on the roads. When you have to factor in hotels and meals, there is a whole ‘nother dimension to the gypsy markets. And why haven’t we done more San Antonio markets, pray tell? Why are we put to the effort of driving miles and miles? Honestly, I’d love to do an event that’s only ten minutes away, but most of the big San Antonio Christmas events charge vendors way too much for a table. Even something juried and focusing on art by the creators of it, like Gruene charge a bomb for participation, which is nice for those artists asking substantial sums for their original work – but not so remunerative for my daughters’ work, which is usually two figures or less. So that’s how the situation stands; I am looking to do more events like the Texas State Historical Association, and my daughter to those juried art fairs which don’t ask much for their tables or booth space. More about events that we will be participating in, as the schedule firms up.

19. April 2018 · Comments Off on 5-Year Plan: The First Project · Categories: Domestic

While waiting to be put into the roofing/construction company’s schedule for the ‘catio’ and the new roof – which likely won’t happen until mid or late May at earliest, I have gone ahead and started work on the small bathroom renovation. The Daughter Unit was expecting this to be done while she was in California. I was also expecting to have Roman the Handy Guy start on the ‘catio’ before she even left, but he was in two minds about the project; an entirely roofed and screened-in porch was a bit more of a project that he wanted to tackle single-handed. So – I handed off the catio-porch element onto the professionals and asked him to tackle the small bathroom renovation. This is something more in his wheelhouse anyway.

The small bathroom project is a relatively simple one; rip out the vanity/sink and the toilet, scrape that nasty popcorn texture off the ceiling, tile the floor and the wall behind where the new sink will go, repaint the whole room, and install a set of built-in shelves and a new wall light fixture. The whole room is about 5 by 9, a third of that taken up by the bathtub across one end anyway. No big structural changes, no changes to the water or sewer lines, nothing to the electrical beyond replacing switch plates to match the new color scheme. Which will be white and a sort of grey-lavender-pinkish, to match a little vintage porcelain dresser set that the Daughter Unit picked up somewhere or other and wanted to use as the keynote design element. We plan to reuse the faucet set – since it was the one that I bought to replace the original construction-grade faucet about a decade ago, when I did my first redecorating pass through my little patch of suburban paradise.

So, yesterday we were at the local big-box home renovation store, picking up the replacement toilet and pedestal sink that I had ordered last week – both items packed in big boxes, which is why I had arranged with Roman and his pickup truck, rather than try and stuff them in the back of the Montero myself. While there, I bought the other material for the project; paint, floor and backsplash tile, the grout mix, lengths of baseboard stock, and lumber for a set of floor-to-ceiling shelves which will replace the storage space lost when the bathroom vanity is taken out. The bathroom is so small, the vanity takes up entirely too much of what little space there is – hence, replaced with a pedestal sink. Roman has a busy schedule for the rest of this week, so his part of the renew-work falls into next week. My part falls into the interim: scrape up the last of the paint on the concrete floor and clean thoroughly, so that the tiles adhere properly, take down all the stuff attached to the walls, patch the holes, sand, and otherwise prep the room for heavy redecoration. And that was my week – other than the trip to Houston, which I will write up anon.

(The historic WWI Battle of Belleau Wood is a part of the background in A Half Dozen of Luna City … and for your edification – an essay on it, which will feature in the latest Luna City chronicle.)

The Deathly Woods

1918 was not the year that the 19th century died; died in all of its boundless optimisms and earnest faith in advancement of the human condition. For Europe – cynical, cultured, hyper-superior old Europe – that could be said to happened two years earlier, along the Somme, at Verdun, in the tangled hell of barbed wire, poisoned gas and toxic, clay-like mud, the burnt ruins of the centuries-old Louvain university and it’s priceless library, destroyed by German ‘frightfulness’ tactics in the heat of their first offensive. Perhaps the 19th century died as early as 1915. It depended on which front, of course, and the combatants involved, still standing on their feet, but wavering like punch-drunken, exhausted pugilists. One may readily theorize that only blood-drenched enmity kept them propped up, swinging futilely at each other, while the lists of casualties from this or that offensive filled page after page of newsprint; all in miniscule typeface, each single name – so small in print, yet a horrific, tragic loss for a family and community hundreds of miles from the Front.
All this was different for Americans, of course; sitting on the sidelines, gravely concerned, yet publicly dedicated to neutrality, and firmly at first of the conviction that Europe’s affairs were not much of Americas’ business. But softly, slowly, slowly, softly – American sympathies swung towards the Allies, even though there were enough first- and second-generation Americans among German and Irish immigrants to have swung American public opinion among non-Anglo or Francophile elements towards maintaining a continued neutrality. After all, it was a war far, far, away, and nothing much to do with us … at first. But events conspired; the brutality of the Huns in Belgium (documented by American newspapers), unrestricted submarine warfare which extended to American shipping (and, inevitably, American casualties), and finally, the publication of the Zimmerman Telegram – and in the spring of 1917, President Wilson formally requested of Congress that a declaration of war on Imperial Germany be considered and voted upon. Said declaration was passed by an overwhelming margin, and by summer of that year, American troops were arriving in France – first in a trickle, then a flood.
The Belleau Wood was a forested tract thirty or so miles northeast of Paris; a hunting preserve in a stand of old-growth European forest, the refuge of wildlife, and for those whose favored recreation was hunting them. At the northern edge of the forest was two-story octagonal hunting lodge; built of stone, it was a place to shelter hunters for a night, during momentary bad weather, or a hearty meal, mid-hunt. Until the spring of 1918, it had been relatively untouched by a war which had turned acres and acres of French and Belgian farmland into muddy, barbed-wire entangled wastelands – many of which are still poisoned and unsafe, a hundred years after the end of that war. That forest tranquility ended when the expected German spring offensive slammed into the Allied lines – lines which now included the Americans – and punched through to the Marne River. The Germans had hoped to break through before the sufficient of the American Expeditionary Force arrived to make a difference in the wars’ outcome.
Late in May, German forces reached the Paris-Metz main road – and if they managed to break across the Marne and reach Paris, that one last throw of the dice would pay off for Germany; perhaps in victory, or perhaps in a negotiated and face-saving settlement with the equally exhausted and embittered French and British.

An experienced career soldier, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing commanded the US. Expeditionary Force. He had rejected British and French demands that the Americans be parceled out piecemeal among Allied units, and essentially fight under the command of French and British officers. This would not do – likely Black Jack was polite yet forceful about it. (His nic came from him having commanded a troop of black cavalry early in his career as a young officer.) The AEF’s 3rd Division went into the line to counter the German advance at Chateau Thierry – the 3rd Division, which included a brigade of Marines, had initially been held in reserve – was brought forward in a hurry. The Marines were pretty much seen as a second-class by the Army brass, according to some accounts: good enough to do rear-guard and support duty, and only thrown into what was expected to be a quiet sector because every able-bodied American serviceman was needed, in the face of the German spring offensive. Checked by stiff resistance at Chateau Thierry, the German advance poured into the woods, where the 3rd Division had just arrived. Retreating French troops, exhausted from the fight to keep from being overrun, urged the Americans to do likewise, whereupon one of their officers is supposed to have riposted, “Retreat, Hell – we just got here!”
Of course, the newly-arrived American troops were keen as mustard; champing at the bit, as it were – especially the Marines, few of whom were of the career old breed. Many were recent volunteers. Up until that moment, the Marines had been a rather small, and somewhat specialized service; more inclined to security on board naval ships and at US embassies abroad, perhaps a small punitive expedition where American interests were concerned in South America and the Caribbean; a military constabulary, rather than hard-charging infantry. Still, it was a service that took pride in having been founded by an act of the Continental Congress in 1775, recruiting at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, beating the official establishment of the US Army by more than a decade. (Yes, there was a Continental Army during the Revolution, but it was more like state militias seconded for service in the colonies’ united cause. The US Army wasn’t quote-unquote officially established until the 1780s. Upon this kind of minutia are friendly service rivalries built.)

Throughout the month of June 1918, the Marines fought with bitter tenacity through the deathly woods; sharpshooting at first, with deadly effect, and eventually to point-blank, then with bayonet, knives, and hand-to-hand. They kept the Germans from moving out of the wood, and then fought them back, yard by yard, trench by trench. The trees in the forest, the boulders at their feet were shattered by artillery and machine-gun fire. The stench from the bodies of the dead – too many to bury, under the existing conditions in the early summer heat – revolted the living to an unimaginable degree. And still – they went on, clawing back the wood to Allied control. More Marines were killed in that single month than had been killed in action since their founding in 1775. The Corps would not face another butcher’s bill to equal it until the taking of Tarawa, a quarter of a century later, and half the world away. It was a special kind of hell, this fight in a 200-acre French woodland, fought by relatively untried young troops, motivated by pride in service, by devotion to comrades, and by the leadership – which in many instances devolved onto NCOs, and even individual Marines, like Sergeant Dan Daly, a scrappy Irish-American career Marine (who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – twice, for actions in the Boxer Rebellion, and then again in Haiti). In legend he is said to have rallied the troops with a shout of “For Chrissake, men, come on; do you want to live forever?!” (Or similar phrasing. The war correspondent Floyd Gibbons later wrote that he had heard a similar expression shouted by a senior NCO, and the legend attached itself to Dan Daly.)
In the end, the Germans were driven from the woods, at a horrific cost; 10,000 casualties among the Marines, including nearly 2,000 dead. There is no definitive record of German dead, although there were around 1,600 Germans taken prisoner. But the Marines had clawed back the deathly woods, blunted the last-ditch German offensive … and in November of that year, Germany threw in the towel. By agreement, it all came to a temporary end on the eleventh hour, the eleventh day, the eleventh month. Such were the enmities and resulting bitterness that the armistice held only for the time that it took for a baby boy born in that year to grow up and serve in his turn. The shattered forest was christened anew after the battle; it has been named since then; now it is called the Wood of the Marine Brigade and an adjunct to a American war cemetery. The American 4th Brigade was recognized by the French government by the award of a military honor, the Croix de Guerre. To this day, active-duty Marines serving in the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are authorized to wear the French fourragere – an elaborate garnishment of looped and braided cords – on their left shoulder as part of their dress uniform, in honor of that unit’s service in the Deathly Wood, a hundred years ago. And to this day, successfully completing Marine Corps basic training means completing the “Crucible” – a 54-hour marathon march on short rations and little sleep, featuring grueling marches, obstacle course and team-driven combat-problem-solving exercise – some of which was drawn on the experience of the fighting in the deathly woods, a hundred years ago.

(Yes, another excerpt of the next Luna City chronicle – which, with luck, will be available in April, 2018)

“Bree … you haven’t experimented with … the sex-magick, have you? You know – with a boyfriend of your age?” G-Nan asked, anxiously, and Bree Grant looked at her grandmother with eyes rounded in mild astonishment. What on earth could have brought that on? It was the first day of Bree’s return to the Age of Aquarius; suppertime in the Straw Castle Aquarius, a high-ceilinged tower of a place with a domed roof. Her parent’s car had vanished up the narrow road into the Age that very morning, trailing a smudge of dust and leaving Bree behind to spend spring and summer with her grandparents.

Bree, seventeen, intense and outgoing, replied in shocked surprise, “Ick, no! The male of our species,” Bree continued with a magisterial air, wondering why Grampy was stifling laughter. “Is simply not at their best at this stage of development. Really, G-Nan, all zits and obsessed with cars or football, or all gothy and emo. The very thought; it is to make me barf. And no savoir-faire at all. I have standards, you know,” and Bree directed a severe look at her grandfather who was still snickering. “I demand a degree of savoir-faire in a lover. Absolutely, at a minimum.”

“Bree Pumpkin – do you even know what savoir-faire means?” Grampy asked, over his plate of quinoa and feta-cheese salad – which Bree had made herself, rather than risk G-Nan’s signature dish of lentil surprise.

“Sure,” Bree serenely scarfed up a forkful of salad. “It’s from the French, actually – and is defined in the dictionary as ‘a polished sureness in social behavior.’ I really don’t think that is too much to ask for, Grampy – and what is so funny about it?”

“Nothing, Pumpkin,” Sefton still grinned, which Bree found quite baffling. But not as baffling as when Judy laid down her own fork and looked earnestly at her granddaughter.

“You are of the age to consider experimenting with sex-magick, you know. It is a powerful force in this world, and not one to be lightly considered.”

“I know, G-Nan,” Bree reassured her grandmother. “And trust me – I have thought about it all very carefully. There’s no real future in sleeping with every guy you meet. I mean, really. They forget you the next day, or never call … and really, I’d rather be the one they remember forever for not having gone to bed with them. When I do decide,” Bree helped herself to more okra pickles and bit into one of them with a satisfying crunch. “To practice the magick, it will be spectacular. Perfect. On satin sheets at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or under a Tahitian waterfall with the scent of frangipani hanging in the air … That kind of perfection takes time, and he will really, really have to be worthy.”

“What about that Walcott boy?” G-Nan ventured, having – as Bree assumed – totally missed the point. “He’s quite nice-looking, for his age … and the two of you are quite compatible, astrologically-speaking.”

“G-Nan!” Bree was horrified. “Robbie’s my best friend, practically – he’s just a kid. He can’t possibly do the magick correctly!”

“Might surprise you,” Sefton Grant murmured, and looked innocent when Bree glared at him. And Judy compounded the horror with a further suggestion.

“Bree-Pumpkin, if an older man – knowledgeable about working the sex-magick properly – is what you are looking for – consider Richard, at the Café. He is also compatible, astrologically … and very handsome. And an accomplished lover, by all that we have heard…”

“Oh, double-ick!” Bree, shocked out of all impulse to be polite to her elders, slammed down her fork, followed by her fist on the table … which being of sturdy make from native cedar cut on the property by Sefton, only trembled slightly. “G-Nan, that’s positively gross – he’s old enough to be Dad, practically – and besides, he’s my boss! I just may barf at the thought. If anything, he’s sweet on Kate Heisel. And I mean – ugh. I wouldn’t do another girl dirt by screwing her boyfriend. That’s just gross!”

“Calm down, dear – it was only a suggestion!” Judy protested, her eyes filling with tears. “I meant it in your best interests. You want your initiation into the magick as a woman to be perfect, with a considerate and skilled practitioner of the arts …”

“But not incestuous!” Bree retorted. “Jeez, G-Nan … at that rate, I might just as well throw myself at Chief Vaughn, or Coach _____… Can I just be allowed to sort out my own life?”

“We want the best for you, Pumpkin,” Judy wiped away a tear on her napkin, and Sefton came to her rescue.

“We know,” he said. “Leave it alone, Judikins – Bree-Pumpkin, your G-Nan means well. We’ll let the subject drop as of this moment, all right? Good. Now … Richard asked me yesterday morning, since you were to be back in Luna City – are you free to work a special event, come Spring Break? Not full-time,” Sefton added hurriedly. “Just to help prep for a big bash at Mills Farm early in March.”

“Sure, Grampy,” Bree sniffled. “Yeah, I can do it.” She glared at her grandmother. “But not another word about me and my love life, ‘kay? I’m almost eighteen, I’m practically through my first year of college, I can sort that shit out for myself, Oh-Kay?!”

“Agreed, Pumpkin,” Sefton agreed, keeping his relief private … although Judy was still sniffling, slightly. “So – you do your studies in the morning, work a coupla-times a week at the Café in the afternoon…”

“I’m a big girl now, Grampy,” Bree spared a serious glare at her grandmother. “I can handle it.”

“Good,” Sefton replied. “Now – who wants another sliver of that barbequed-marinated tofu?”