Pack mule, old accident story

Yeah, I know, that’s not a mule.

If you hike enough trails in Glacier National Park, you’ll sooner oer later come along a pack train of mules hauling supplies to backcountry chalets, fire towers, and ranger stations. If I’d worked on one of those instead of as a bellman, I wouldn’t be spending all this time looking at YouTube videos about how to pack a mule and how to harness a mule.

Why do I care? One of the characters in my novel in progress hauls goods around the area in a mule train. So now I need to learn how he handles the mules and the tack. If I were in the Matrix movie, I could just download all that info into my brain and be an expert.

This is the kind of detail that really slows down the writing.

Old Accident

Here’s a two-door version.

When we lived in Eugene, Oregon during the time I would have been in kindergarten, we seemed to have family and friends throughout Washington, Oregon, and California. So, we were on the road a lot in our giant, four-door 1950 Nash 600.

On one of those trips, we were passing a flatbed truck. Mother was driving, Dad was riding showgun, and my younger brothers and I were in the back seat. In those days, it seemed to be customary to tap the horn twice before passing somebody. Mother did that and then started doing around the truck when it swerved  into our lane to pass a smaller car in front of him. Mother honked again and put on the brakes.

The truck driver saw us, over-corrected, and went rolling down through a field. I have know idea who called the police, but we were parked off on the shoulder for ages. After the officers figured out what happened, filled out their paperwork, we were allowed to go on.

The odd thing about this is that after it happened, my folks never spoke of it. Growing up, I didn’t think of it often, so never asked for details. The subject just never came up, and if there were injuries or fatalities in the truck (which seemed certain to me), I can see why my parents wouldn’t want to speak of it. Otherwise, I have no idea why–at least when I ws an adult–I never asked, “What do we know about the near collision with the truck when I was five?”

I’ve been searching digitized newspapers, but so far haven’t found anything. It would help if I knew for sure which state we were in when it happened. In an Internet age when we seem to hear about everything, most of which isn’t important, it’s frustrating to look back in time and find nada, zip, and endless void.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Fate’s Arrows, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback and hard cover editions. 

Family murder never solved

My uncle, Frank M. Campbell, was murdered in Fort Collins, Colorado in November 1919 while he was walking to church. The murder was never solved. Some said it was probably a holdup attempt. Some said it was a case of mistaken identity. He was twenty years old, and the loss would haunt my father all his life and, from time to time, it haunts me even now long after the fact.

Some years ago, I tried to find out if the police department had any information. They didn’t. The case was open but too far back in time to be relevant. I even asked a psychic. He told me it was an ether-related crime, this at a time when ether was a drug problem like heroin and cocaine are today. My assumption was that Frank was approached by somebody who needed money to support his habit.

My grandparents and their three other children left Fort Collins and moved to California (the Los Gatos area) where they still were when I was born many years later in Berkeley. I don’t think this kind of crime ever leaves a family unscathed. My father and his two siblings, and of course their parents, carried this moment with them forever.  Even now, over a century later, I find myself angered and perplexed by it.

I wonder as I read the daily news about crimes across the country, when (if ever) the horrific memories of violent crimes ever fade away. I think the survivors never forget even though the news stories are gone with the wind.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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The Big Grape-Nuts Shortage

Just to clarify. The shortage of this venerable Post cereal, created in 1897, is big, not the Grape-Nuts. Who do we blame for this? Consumers. Cereal sales had been falling until the pandemic sent millions of people to the cereal aisles they didn’t know existed.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I campaigned for Sugar Crisp and Frosted Flakes while our parents stocked up on Grape-Nuts, the now discontinued Grape-Nuts Flakes, and the now discontinued Krumbles. When Krumbles went away, I switched over to Grape-Nuts.

My claim was that grape nuts were really scuppernongs that were harvested so late in the season that they couldn’t be eaten off the vine, much less turned into wine and jelly.

Our grandfather claimed that he’d been eating Grape-Nuts since he was a farmer in Illinois because he was ahead of his time and lined up for the first ready-to-eat cereal. However, he claimed it was made out of soybeans and that the smell that once hovered over Decatur, Illinois from the Staley Company was soybeans roasting over an open fire to be shipped to C. W. Post for the cereal.

Our parents said the cereal was made from wheat flour and malted barley flour and other stuff. The “other stuff,” it seemed, left room for either soybeans or scuppernongs.

According to Post,  “So, why is it called Grape-Nuts? As with many great emblems in history, there are two versions of the story. One says that Mr. Post believed glucose, which he called ‘grape sugar,’ formed during the baking process. This, combined with the nutty flavor of the cereal, is said to have inspired its name. Another explanation claims that the cereal got its name from its resemblance to grape seeds, or grape ‘nuts.’”

Years after our family’s debates about soybeans and scuppernongs, Grandfather died, and when we read his will we found that he had left each of us 100 pounds of Grape-Nuts because, as the old ad said, “they were better than gold.” Unfortunately, wevils ate away our riches at the warehouse, and this explains why we didn’t go to Harvard or Yale or the Riviera.

Nonetheless, I’ve been loyal to the cereal for old times’ sake.

Malcolm

My books include Fate’s Arrows, The Sun Singer, and Special Investigative Reporter.

Do you know what it was like to be 13?

My oldest granddaughter is now 13.  A teenager. Beginning what is supposedly an angst-filled and uncertain time for humans.

I have no clue what it was like to be thirteen years old. My family sent out a Christmas letter. They’ve been collected into a notebook which I use whenever I want to know what I was doing at a certain age. Checking the records, I see I was a Star Scout, diligently working on merit badges. Once I read this in the Christmas letter archives, the memories come back and I remember the Scout meetings and the camping trips and family trip to a lake near Rhinelander, Wisconsin where we tried (without success) to catch Pike and Muskies.

I know my granddaughter’s primary focus is ballet lessons. She’s been in Girl Scouts. She likes the scariest rides at Disney World and other theme parks. Goodness knows I, as her grandfather, don’t know how to handle ballet lessons or perform on stage. So, no wisdom from me on being a teen.

Not that she’d ask.

She’s a vegan even though her sister and parents aren’t. My wife and I wonder where that came from; perhaps she heard about it from another kid at school and the approach to eating made sense.

I can’t help with that.

I know she can be very stubborn, very focused on what she wants to do. I can identify with that. Seriously, I was a horrible teenager mainly because I had no respect for authority and didn’t like being told what to do or what not to do.

My daughter won’t let me say anything about what I felt at thirteen. I don’t blame her. Yet, I worry, because being an outlier can be a lonely road. If we saw each other more often (she lives in MD and I live in GA), I could listen and hope listening is all she wanted.

So, she’s slowly turning into an adult, a time when parents are often skeptical about the value of too much contact with grandparents. My parents often thought my grandparents were a bad influence. That meant that I thought my grandparents were a good influence.

I was very independent as a teen. I think my granddaughter will be, too. I’m both happy and concerned about that. Her IQ will get her into trouble that I hope she’ll figure out how to get out of.

Grandpa’s sort of a rebel. Best that I don’t let her know.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy novel “The Sun Singer.”