Monday, December 28, 2020

 Word Replacement Time

I almost used the word ‘footage’ in reference to recent YouTube coverage of a rocket launch, when I realized the term was meant to describe a segment of old-fashioned movie film or fast-fading videotape. Everything is going digital, so I guess the replacement word for footage ought to be ‘pixilation.’

Some other modernizing replacement suggestions:

Junk Words or Phrases            Modernized Replacement Words or Phrases

        objective news                             agenda pixilating

        dial a phone                                 thumb it (still works for hitching a ride, too)

         militias                                        candidate supporters

         face masks                                   political affiliation designators

         pandemic                                     party time

         patriotism                                    secessionism

         distancing                                    political positioning

         loser                                             winner

         U.S. government                          entropy               

         2020                                             2021


Please mask up (and pass the message on) to save the lives of fellow Americans and let’s all have a Much Happier New Year.


Have a look at the NC thriller novel series on the website or Amazon.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Having A Safe Celebration

   Let's hope everyone across our battered nation will have a good Christmas or other seasonal celebration of faith, but please do it safely.

   Today—the winter solstice—is the longest, darkest night of a dark year. Last week the virus scored a grim new record victory against America, infecting a million more of us in just five days. An American is dying now every 24 seconds. Health care workers are fighting on through their fatigue and sadness and frustration, but they’re being overwhelmed in many hot spots.

   Yet there are still many among us who stubbornly refuse to wear a mask and distance themselves, even though we know these simple precautions can prevent thousands more fellow Americans from facing premature death.

   In this season of caring, can’t we all step up and fight this common global enemy? Vaccines are being distributed and, given time, this herculean effort will take beneficial effect, but meanwhile we need to cooperate with the expert advice and the well-known guidelines. To not do so is to prolong the suffering of hundreds of thousands of us and delay real economic recovery for us all.

   Here’s to a vaccinated New Year.


Look to the southwest just after sunset tonight, below and to the right of the moon slice and not far above the horizon for a sight not seen for the past 800 years. The giant planets Jupiter and Saturn will appear to almost touch, creating what some are calling a Christmas Star.

Monday, December 14, 2020

John Caughey, Part Two

    Last post, I introduced you to one of my enduring heroes, my maternal stonemason grandfather John. (My late Dad Erol is another.)

    Gramp John and I used to exchange letters and postcards, frequently kidding each other about this or that. I think his unquenchable sense of humor was an ingredient in the secret recipe that kept him on Earth, thriving and contributing, for one hundred and three years. One of his woodland paintings he did in his later years depicted a dog chasing a cat chasing a mouse scooting for cover as a hawk looked on. The title was, “Life. Just one damned thing after another.”

    Somehow, we got onto the subject of horoscopes, poking fun at each other’s celestial signs. Claiming he could read my scope as well as any astrologer out there, he sent me the following week’s worth of astrological advice:

MONDAY: Avoid get-rich-quick schemes today, icy streets, and close friends.

TUESDAY: Be glad you’re you. Everybody else certainly is. On that other matter, just stick to your story and stop worrying.

WEDNESDAY: You will be followed today. Wear a disguise.

THURSDAY: You will receive a compliment. It will be a lie.

FRIDAY: You have your shirt on backwards. Slow down.

SATURDAY: You will receive a warning by mail today. Pay up.

SUNDAY: You should, but you won’t.

    The ironic part about this reading of my personal stars was its flavor of accuracy.

    We also exchanged serious notes. One day after a freezing rainstorm he took his customary walk through the woods, dressed as usual, I’m sure, in shirt and tie, vested suit coat and Stetson felt hat. (In old photos of the Wright Brothers testing their planes, they were similarly dressed; it’s what people did then.) That day he sent me a postcard that said, “Old as I am, Mother Nature still has the power to amaze and delight me. Last night she decorated the trees with billions of ice diamonds.”

    The old man himself never lost the power to amaze and delight this lucky grandson of his. Were it not for him, I wouldn’t even be here. Were it not for him, I would not carry much of his beneficial philosophy and example throughout my life. He has influenced my writing and even appeared as a character. An elderly couple, Hank and Hattie Gaskill, prominent in my suspense novel series, were drawn largely from Gramp John and his pleasant wife, Hattie.

     He touched thousands of others for the better over his more than ten decades, and those thousands have in turn touched still others with some of his enduring work ethic, good humor, and wisdom.

     And now he’s touched you a bit, as well.

     Author Albert Pine said, “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”


Try the thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts. Available in print or Kindle from Amazon or through

On Friday, 2,900 Americans died. That was two persons for every minute of that 24-hour day. Want to do something to cut down that horrific daily death toll? Just follow the advice of the qualified experts. Mask up and distance; it shows fellow Americans you care. Avoid all unnecessary gatherings. These simple easy measures will help save thousands upon thousands of lives until the vaccines intervene and slowly take beneficial effect.


Monday, December 7, 2020

 John Caughey, a New England Centenarian, Part One

    Only one American in six thousand lives to the century mark. Fewer than that make it in style.

    John Caughey, my maternal grandfather, did.

    Born on 7 March 1874 to hardy Yankee stock, he attended a one-room schoolhouse commanded by a stern lady the kids privately called “Old Piecrust.” His first job was making wheels for horse-drawn wagons, but he found better pay as a stone mason and then a contractor with as many as 50 men in his crew, building fine homes all over New England. He did most of the stonework himself—granite chimneys, slate patios, stone bridges, mortar-less field stone walls. After years of strenuous ten-hour workdays, he would have laughed at the idea of gym membership. He was not a big man, never weighing more than 160 pounds, but he was strong, and he earned a wide reputation for quality work and iron honesty. Living in Waltham, Massachusetts, he fathered and well supported five children who all turned out fine. I’m one of his fortunate 15 grandchildren. If he had not fathered my mother, I would not even be here.

    Early in his career he built a stone bridge for a man who wanted it to support one horse and buggy. Several decades later he happened to be doing another job for a different owner of the same estate and watched as a loaded concrete truck crossed the old bridge. “Told the man I’d built it,” he said, “after that truck got across.” In 1949, at 74, he married a wise and funny lady named Hattie, having lost his first wife in 1946. Also in 1949, he helped my father build our house on a hillside in the village of Williamsburg. I was eleven when I watched him chisel and fit the granite blocks that cover the front, and set the mortared chimney from salvaged cobblestones, and choose and place the field stones for a dry ten-foot-high driveway retaining wall that has not budged an inch since. I remember his patience and the perfection he demanded of himself as he measured and cut with his self-sharpened hand saws the studs and joists and rafters. I remember his rough hands, the split nails and callused fingers covered with granite dust, hands that could whittle a fine sliding willow whistle for me while he ate sparingly from a black tin lunch pail.

    He set his last stone at 86. He and Hattie traveled a bit and laughed a lot for a happy time. Then, at 88 and twice widowed, he took up a new career, patiently teaching himself over months and years to create fine oil paintings in the rustic studio he built near Antrim, New Hampshire, using the rough side of inexpensive Masonite to simulate canvas, and framing his scenes in natural weathered silver oak. Soon people sought him out to buy his work. In his early nineties he began taking on commissions. As a special project he decided to paint scenes of as many aging covered bridges as he could as a way of preserving them and he had me drive him all over two states and take photos he could work from. He called them kissin’ bridges, perhaps remembering a time or two he’d stopped his buggy in the shade of one for some nineteenth-century romancing. I wrote an article about him for New Hampshire Profiles magazine.

    He’d built a 40-foot clock tower of brick and granite in 1942 for the Canton, Mass., School for Crippled Children, who took to calling him Uncle John, and that’s how he chose to sign his paintings.

    His secrets for longevity? Like the rare doctor who managed to get a look at him, I can only guess. He worked hard in all seasons, as was the normal and expected New England custom back then, never smoked or took a drink, did not believe in doctors or their medicines with all their harmful side effects, ate a bit of everything for nutrition and not for recreation, and though always mild mannered and never stressed from worry, he had an infernal stubborn streak. Well into his later years he retained a full shock of white hair and a mustache, used only a magnifying glass to read more easily, and took daily walks through the woods in search of saplings he could whittle into canes and sell to “old duffers,” though his own cane, awarded by town officials for being the oldest guy around, hung unused on a wall. He split his own firewood to heat the studio.

    One night in his hundred and third year, he went to sleep and did not wake up. But for me and the thousands of others he touched throughout a century his passing changed nothing. He’s still an ineradicable part of us all.

    One of his paintings, a fine winter scene with a horse-drawn buggy, a red barn, snow-laden conifers, and a frozen brook, hangs in our dining room.


For some absorbing pandemic reading, try the thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the misty folds of the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts. Available in print or Kindle from Amazon or through my website.

Please follow the advice of the qualified experts. Mask up and distance. Avoid unnecessary gatherings. These simple easy measures will help save lives.