NATIONAL AND PERSONAL TRAGEDIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Everyone who was over the age of five on November 22, 1963, remembers where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot. It was a seminal moment in most people’s lives.

I was in a ninth grade math class taught by my crusty, no nonsense math teacher, Miss Rosenthal. It was the last class on a Friday and I was sitting next to the window in the front row.

Me around ninth grade

I suddenly heard shouting outside on the front walkway and saw kids gathering and talking animatedly. Miss Rosenthal got annoyed at me for looking out the window and told me to face front and pay attention. I protested that something was going on outside but Miss Rosenthal didn’t care. She insisted I stay focused on the class and ignore the crowd growing just a few feet away from me. When we went back to school on Monday, Miss Rosenthal apologized to the class for preventing us from hearing the breaking news sooner.

As soon as class was over, we were accosted by kids in the hallway with reports of JFK’s shooting. In a haze, I went to my locker, got my coat and went outside. By the time I got to the front door, everyone was hysterical because JFK had died.

We were all crying on the car ride home. I spent the entire weekend watching the round the clock coverage of the death and the funeral. I saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot on live TV. I shared this grueling experience with most of the country – the first time we all went through a national crisis together in that way.

Oswald getting shot on live TV

In contrast, my mother was out shopping that Friday afternoon. She was looking at sets of China and fell in love with an expensive set that was way above her budget. She reluctantly left the store but was proud of her frugality. She immediately heard the news about JFK’s assassination. Her reaction, after horror and sorrow, was “Life is short”. So she turned around, went back into the china shop and bought the china! That’s my mom in a nutshell – a president’s assassination translates into the purchase of something beautiful.

My mom around 1963 all dolled-up to go out

I actually saw John F. Kennedy up close, in person, twice. The first time, his car slowly passed ours on the FDR Drive. He was in a convertible with the top down and his hair was blowing in the wind. He was charismatic. The second time, he was president and his motorcade was driving up Park Avenue, in New York City, the street I lived on. I was about twelve and was walking home. I stopped and stood in the street to catch a glimpse of his car. I saw him clearly through the window and I waved to him. As I watched the car drive past me, Kennedy turned around and waved back at me. There was no one else there that he could have been looking at! I was thrilled and I can still see his face in my mind.

JFK

Later in high school, I had a different experience with death. My best friend, Anne, lived a few blocks from me and we spent a lot of time together. One day, Anne’s father pulled me aside. He told me that Anne’s mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he wanted me to be the one to tell her. I was in eleventh grade! I was shocked and terrified. But he pleaded with me and said he just couldn’t do it himself.

When Anne was visiting, I sat her down in my comfy chair and gave her the bad news. As I had expected, she wanted to go right home and be with her parents. Her mother died a few months later.

My friend Anne in her Senior Yearbook photo

Unbelievably, this scenario repeated itself the very next year! In our senior year in high school, Anne’s father was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her Aunt Edna, her father’s sister, was very close to the family. She came to me and, again, asked if I would tell Anne that she was losing her sole remaining parent. I protested but Edna said that she and her brother didn’t want to be the ones to break the news to Anne.

So, again, I sat Anne down and gave her the life-changing news. This was devastating for me as well as for her. We both cried. When her dad died later that year, Aunt Edna moved in with Anne and became her permanent mother and father.

My senior yearbook photo

Anne and I stayed friends through college but then lost touch. We only reconnected, by email, after our 40th high school reunion, over ten years ago. She was a lawyer, was married and had two grown daughters. She seemed content with her life and I felt relieved to know that she had landed on her feet after her early tragedies.

So my high school years had different but powerful brushes with death that helped shape who I am and how I deal with tragedy and death.

MY SUNDAY HOMILY – RICH PASCHALL

A sermon on smoking and other pastimes by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

From time to time I think about this topic, but rarely come to the lectern to speak about it. If you have been attending Sunday services here at the House of SERENDIPITY, you may recall I spoke about Betty, a friend and co-author of a play (Liberation).

Emphysema robbed her of her breath. She was a chain smoker throughout the years I knew her. I also recalled the time I received a text message from a cousin to advise me that the husband of one of our many cousins had passed away of throat cancer and various complications resulting from chemotherapy. He was 52 and had been a heavy smoker. I am saddened by the people who die so young.  Years ago, I would tell people that my parents gave up smoking.  My mother had a stroke and my father died of lung cancer.

cig and ashtray-1When you mention these things to smokers you may get one of the following excuses: “What difference does it make?  You have to die of something.”

Under this sort of thinking you might was well jump in front of a fast-moving train or jump off the Willis (aka Sears) Tower. Of course we are all going to die of something, someday. That does not mean we should try hard to cut this life short. I don’t even care if you think there is another life out there for you. Why would you willingly give up a sure thing — on a bet?

2.  “It will never happen to me.” I never thought I would have nerve damage in my foot and have difficulty moving about. I never thought someone in an 18-wheeler would  run me off the road and total my car, with me in it. I never thought the rich would wish to deny healthcare to the poor. You never know, so why take chances?

3.  “My uncle smoked a pack a day and nothing ever happened to him.” OK, some people win the Lotto too, but I would not count on that as passing down through the family. My father’s older brother smoked as much and perhaps more than my father ever did and he outlived my dad by a lot. Perhaps it was because he smoked a different brand. Perhaps it was because he had a better diet. Perhaps it was just dumb luck.

4.  “I’m going to quit. I just can’t do it right now.” I think I have heard this one the most. So when is the time going to come? Will it happen after you have lung cancer, throat cancer, or whatever? Do you remember Roger Ebert? Do you know what happened to him? He had part of his jaw removed.  He had to give up his popular television show. He had to wear a mask in public. He lost his voice. While you are waiting for the right time to quit, you can end up like that.

5. “I can quit anytime I want.” Really? Then why don’t you? No one is fooled. No one believes you. You don’t want to quit or you can’t quit. Either way, you should get help, buddy. I am as serious as a heart attack. Maybe not the heart attack you might have, but serious anyway. If you don’t give it up, then you are addicted or you don’t want to quit. If you are addicted, get help. Your friends and family will support you. If they won’t, avoid them. If you don’t want to quit, you are not living in the real world and watching the cancer statistics. Google “smoking deaths” or something like that and tell us what you get.

6.  “Everyone has some sort of vice.” I am not sure about that, but yes, a lot of people drink too much, do too many recreational drugs, have too much casual sex or something that may kill them. Is that a reason to do something that might kill you?

Since it is Sunday, I confess that I have not been an angel on earth. As I get older, however, I am more aware of the stupid stuff that can do me harm and try to avoid it if I can. What about you? This may be the last Sunday I am going to preach on this topic, although I will not promise that.

Anyway, if you did not get the point this time, go to church next Sunday and pray for guidance. Seriously.

SUNDAY IS FOR PREACHING

A sermon on smoking and other pastimes by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

I was thinking about this recently because of people who passed. A few weeks back I wrote about Betty, a friend and co-author of a play we worked on together (Liberation).  Emphysema robbed her of her breath. She was a chain smoker throughout the years I knew her. Then a few weeks ago I received a text message from a cousin to advise me that the husband of one of our many cousins had passed away of throat cancer and various complications resulting from chemotherapy. He was 52 and had been a heavy smoker. I am saddened by the people who die so young.

cig and ashtray-1When you mention these things to smokers you may get one of the following excuses:  “What difference does it make?  You have to die of something.” Under this sort of thinking you might was well jump in front of a fast-moving train or jump off the Willis (aka Sears) Tower. Yes, of course we are all going to die of something someday, that does not mean we should try hard to cut this life short. I don’t even care if you think there is another life out there for you anyway. Why would you willingly give up a sure thing on a bet?

2.  “It will never happen to me.” I never thought I would have nerve damage in my foot and have difficulty moving about. I never thought someone in an 18 wheeler would  run me off the road and total my car, with me in it. I never thought someone would beat me up and leave me bleeding a lot. I never thought the rich would wish to deny healthcare to the poor. You just never know, why take chances?

3.  “My uncle smoked a pack a day and nothing ever happened to him.” OK, some people win the Lotto too, but I would not count on that as passing down through the family. My father’s older brother smoked as much and perhaps more than my father ever did and he out lived my dad by a lot. Perhaps it was because he smoked a different brand. Perhaps it was because he had a better diet. Perhaps it was just dumb luck.

4.  “I’m going to quit. I just can’t do it right now.” I think I have heard this one the most. So when is the time going to come? Will it happen after you have lung cancer, throat cancer or whatever? Remember what happened to Roger Ebert? He had part of his jaw removed.  He had to give up his popular television show. He had to wear a mask in public. He lost his voice. While you are waiting for the right time to quit, you can end up like that.

5. “I can quit anytime I want.” Really? Then why don’t you? No one is fooled. No one believes you. You don’t want to quit or you can’t quit. Either way, you should get help, buddy. I am as serious as a heart attack. Maybe not the heart attack you might have, but serious anyway. If you don’t give it up, then you are addicted or you don’t want to quit. If you are addicted, get help. Your friends and family will support you. If they won’t, avoid them. If you don’t want to quit, you are not living in the real world and watching the cancer statistics. Google “smoking deaths” or something like that and tell us what you get.

6.  “Everyone has some sort of vice.” I am not sure about that, but yes, a lot of people drink too much, do too many recreational drugs, have too much casual sex or something that may kill them. Is that a reason to do something that might kill you?

Since it is Sunday, I confess that I have not been an angel on earth. As I get older, however, I am more aware of the stupid stuff that can do me harm and try to avoid it if I can. What about you? This is the only Sunday I am going to preach on this topic. If you did not get the point, go to church next Sunday and pray for guidance. Seriously.

3 FREE Prequels to THE RETURNED – From Audible and Amazon Kindle

The First, The Sparrow, The Choice

Prequels to The Returned, by Jason Mott

These three short story are prequels to The Returned. All are available right now — free — on Kindle and from Audible.com in celebration of the publication — August 27 — of Jason Mott’s highly acclaimed first novel.

You can get them as audio from Audible.com and for Kindle from Amazon.com. You can get either or both. I’m greedy and I really liked The Returned, so I got both.

Each of the audio versions runs between 30 and 45 minutes and are beautifully narrated. The price is right and the stories are pure poetry. Jason Mott is a poet, an award-winning poet and these stories shine with prose so elegant it is poetry in its own right.

The price is right and I strongly recommend you pop on over to Amazon and Audible and get your own copies as soon as possible!

– – –

The First, as the title suggests, is the story of the first of the dead to return.

The First: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]A year after her fiance’s death, Emily has barely begun to make peace with Edmond’s abrupt demise. He was killed in a freak bus accident only one day after he had proposed and she had accepted. The couple never had the chance to live their dreams, to celebrate their love.

One day, Edmond Blythe shows up at work. As far as he is concerned it’s just another day.Only when fear, panic and chaos break out around him does he realize something else is going on. It isn’t merely any day… it’s a day like no other before or again.

Edmond is the first, though far from the last to return. Having returned, it seems everything and everyone is conspiring to keep him from reuniting with Emily.

– – –

The Sparrow: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]The Sparrow is the poignant tale of a returned girl, murdered in her tenth year in Sierra Leone. Showing up by the side of an American road, she is picked up by Heather and Matt Campbell. They take the little one home. They’ve heard about the returned, but now, suddenly, they have one. In their home in the middle of their lives.

Heather finds herself immediately drawn to ten-year-old Tatiana Rusesa. Matt cannot see anything but thing. Not a child, but a potential ticket to fame and maybe fortune.

Dodging the bullets of her husband’s unexpectedly crass reaction and sinister governmental plans to deal with the returned, Heather uses compassion and intelligence to navigate the rocky shoals of a situation for which she is completely unprepared.

– – –

In The Choice, a man’s childhood love returns after going missing twenty years before. Peter Galvin was The Choice: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]seventeen when the great love of his life vanishes without a trace. No body was ever found and though he grieves, life has inexorably moved one.

Married, with a family of his own, he is suddenly confronted with the girl he loved, apparently in the flesh. Will the call of past be stronger than the commitments of the present? It a love story … the love of a man for his wife, his daughter and a girl he lost and never imagined he would ever see again.

– – –

The Returned will be available as of August 27, 2013, on Kindle, as an MP3, in both hard and softcopy, and as an audiobook (audible.com).

About the author:

Jason Mott holds a BA in fiction and an MFA in poetry and is the author of two poetry collections. His writing has appeared in numerous literary journals, and he was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Jason lives in North Carolina. The Returned is his first novel. Follow him on Twitter @jasonmott.

A Welcome For The Dead — The Returned, A Novel by Jason Mott

The Returned, by Jason Mott

Harlequin – Harlequin MIRA

Publication Date: August 27, 2013


In the long decades since the tragic drowning death of their 8-year old son, Jacob, Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have moved on. There were years of grieving, but although there is a residual sadness, the grace of time has let them come to terms.

Then, one day, Jacob returns. Arrives, without ceremony, on their doorstep. Ironically, it isn’t unexpected because all over the world, the dead are returning to find the people they remembered and loved in life. No one knows what to do about it. No one is sure exactly what the returned are. Alive or some ghastly imitation of life? Have they been to Heaven? Hell? Are they some kind of zombie?

Yet they certainly act alive, remembering nothing since they died, often not even exactly how they died, who or what killed them. For a while, it seems the world is going to explode from the in-rushing of the formerly alive. Is it a miracle? A sign of the end times? Some are sure it’s the work of the Devil, others that it’s the hand of God.

Harold and Lucille don’t know whether this young child is their boy — though he certainly carries all the memories that the real Jacob would have, up until the day of his death. As the world falls into near chaos and hysteria, they know only one thing: they have to protect the child. Whatever he is, he is theirs.

Will the world truly unravel? Will society collapse under the weight of the Returned? Society is faced with some hard questions including the meaning of “alive” and “human.”

Although the plot, in its description, sounds like a horror story or at the very least, science fiction, it isn’t. It’s the examination of how we define ourselves and what it means to be a person. How will human morality in all its variations stand up to a test in which all the standard and accepted definitions fly out the window.

The Returned is also about our relationships with those who have passed on. How we feel about them, making peace with the past, and remembering the importance of loyalty and love when those are the only values that matter … and exactly the values being put to the test.

The book is beautifully written. Elegant, spare, emotional but not sentimental. It examines feelings and fears … and the truth of memory. The Returned is a thought-provoking, sometimes frightening … sometimes comforting … look at our relationship with death and with each other. Whatever you are expecting, it isn’t that. It’s something else and I don’t know exactly what one should call it except a very good book.

The Returned will be available as of August 27, 2013, on Kindle, as an MP3, in both hard and softcopy, and as an audiobook (audible.com).

About the author:

Jason Mott holds a BA in fiction and an MFA in poetry and is the author of two poetry collections. His writing has appeared in numerous literary journals, and he was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Jason lives in North Carolina. The Returned is his first novel. Follow him on Twitter @jasonmott.