Are there Stamps in Arkansas?

stamps_hs_fSome of our fondest childhood memories come from small-town America. Whether we grew up in a rural area or had summer visits to relatives on a farm, the sights, sounds, aromas, and tastes of the country linger pleasantly in our minds for decades. While some of these experiences can be found in any number of places, a few towns are unique. Industry may come and go, but the pride in these jewels across our nation withstands the test of time.

Did you ever hear someone mention a familiar town name and have no idea where it might be? Places like Centerville, Riverside, and Fairview have sprung up all over the country. It is hard to know which Springfield in which state someone is talking about without a bitarkansas-stamp more information. While there is no town name that exists in all fifty states, Riverside comes close, with listings in forty-six states. But there’s only one Stamps. Stamps, Arkansas is proud to be the only Stamps in the entire United States.

A small town in Lafayette County about an hour’s drive from Magnolia, Stamps made it humble beginnings as a short stop on the St. Louis and Southwestern railroad Cotton Belt line in 1882. A Post Office sprouted up in 1887 and shortly thereafter, then the town was incorporated under its first mayor, J. W. Parkers. Rich in timber and oil, the lumber industry drove the local economy, with Stamps at one point bragging the largest sawmill in the South. During World War I, the mills in Stamps supplied lumber to the U.S. government for building our war ships.

FirstPresbyStampsToday, the population of Stamps is about sixteen hundred, down a bit from the twenty-one hundred in the 2000 census. The Bodcaw Bank, which opened in 1902, is one of the oldest business establishments in the town. The First Presbyterian Church of Stamps, founded by the Bodcaw Lumber Company, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Sportsmen know the town for some of the best deer hunting in the state as well as it’s lunker bass population. People come from all over in May to participate in the Annual Lake June Fishing Derby.

Stamps was named after one of the first settlers in the area, Hardy James Stamps. Poet, actress, and singer Maya Angelou was raised in Stamps in the home of her paternalRockClimbingWallStamps grandmother. She depicted the town in her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

What is your favorite small town in America? Do you have a good childhood memory from there?

Advertisements
Posted in America's Roadside Attractions, Stamps Arkansas, travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Death of a Statesman

WWIIArmySoldierOver the centuries, many have died during war. We have all been touched by the death of someone we knew personally, whether a brave soldier in battle, or a civilian caught in unfortunate circumstances. While these deaths strike us the hardest, they fade into statistics in history books, but are kept alive and appreciated through the stories we share with our families, and occasionally stories we read in a newspaper or book that gives their life due meaning.

In the US Civil War, of the six hundred twenty thousand combined Union and Confederate CivilWaractive military, three hundred fifty-eight thousand died of disease—almost sixty thousand of those with dysentery. The scope of the World Wars was so grand that statistics are estimates at best. In World War I, out of sixty-five million combined mobilized troops, one and a half million troops and almost five million civilians died of disease, two million more civilians died from military actions or crimes. In World War II, civilian casualties rose to over twenty-four million by disease and thirty million by military actions or crimes against humanity.

So what fills our history books? They highlight the lives—and sometimes deaths—of more prominent figures through the ages, and occasionally a death so bizarre that it gains recognition for the method.

Pyrrhus of Epirus was one of the most successful opponents of early Rome. His ability to win battles, even at the cost of heavy casualties, coined the term Pyrrhic victory. During retreat of a misgauged attach on Sparta, Pyrrhus was trapped in an alley and an old woman watching from a rooftop tossed a tile on his head. While he was stunned, an Argive soldier seized the moment and beheaded him.

MaryQueenScotsOne of the most famous botched executions was that of Mary Queen of Scots. The executioner denied her audience with a priest, then roughly grabbed her arm and pulled off her doublet. After she bravely laid her head, the axeman’s first blow did not hit home, her head was not severed, and some in the audience thought they heard her speak. After a two more blows, her head was finally severed. Then when her head was raised, it fell from the wig the man held it by, completing the embarrassing event.

Mata Hari was the stage name for exotic dancer Margaretha Zelle, who was sentenced to death by firing squad in France after she was suspected of double spy activity during World War I. When the guards came to take her to her demise, she made a request to write two letters, which was granted, then she calmly dressed in her silk stockings, high-heeled slippers, and cape, as if preparing for a final show, then said, “I am ready.” She faced the firing squad without blindfold and did not flinch during the execution.

Sadam Hussein, aka the Butcher of Baghdad, was tried and sentenced to death for executing close to one hundred and fifty Iraqis in 1982. He was notorious for his use of military force and chemical weaponry against his own people. He requested death by firing squad, apparently to preserve his dignity. The request was denied and he was hung. Video of the hanging quickly went viral on the internet, which sparked international debate. There have been reports that he was stabbed several times even after his death had been confirmed.

ScissorsBeatsPaperWhile these stories are often told in history books, our greatest losses frequently do not meet with the notoriety they deserve. The contributions of many of our brave soldiers, both on and off the battlefield, are frequently never recorded. Do you have a story to share about someone you knew who perished during war? Please share their memory with us.

 

Posted in Civil War, Civilian Casualties, Impact of war, war, Wars, World Wars | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World’s Largest What?

PghBallParkWhen was the last time you went to a ball game and rooted for the other team? We Americans have good ole hometown pride, and for good reason. Our great nation holds more heterogeneity that any other country on Earth. Love the beach? Choose from the east or the west coast, or maybe Hawaii. Want to see nature at its finest? The phenomenon in Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Anchorage are unforgettable. More of a camper? Try Yosemite or Jackson Hole. Want a little privacy? How about the Painted Desert? We have it all, and in between those natural wonders lay some of the best cities and small towns in the world. It is we the people and our rich heritage who make it that way.

Travelers worldwide flock to the US to partake in our wonderment. Here at home each year, the average employed American receives thirteen paid vacation days, and eighty-six percent of Americans take an annual vacation. With 115 million households in the US, that’s…well, a lot! With all the beauty in America, why travel anywhere else?

We have so many awesome attractions and wonderful towns and cities to choose from, it’s hard to pick where to start. Woven into the fabric of America are a few jewels, each with a unique tale to tell: America’s Roadside Attractions. As we explore our country and visit communities great and small, we’ll shed a spotlight on few of these gems along the way. In honor of the great question of which came first, let’s start with the World’s Largest Egg.

As with so many of our great American Roadside Attractions, the World’s Largest Egg wasWorldsLargestEggRWB borne of industry. Winlock, Washington was our nation’s second largest egg producing town until the 1950s. In 1923, the giant egg was fashioned out of canvas to celebrate the newly built Pacific Highway. It has been through several upgrades, first to plastic in 1944, then fiberglass in the 60s. Vern L. Zander, a local egg entrepreneur, financed the most recent upgrade before his death in 1993. The egg stood defiant against terrorism after the 9/11 attacks in a red, white, and blue uniform. In 2004, it proudly read “God Bless America”. Reports of yellow ribbons, perhaps a symbol of the grand egg’s yolk heart, waved free, honoring the sacrifice of 9/11.

WorldsLargestEggThe twelve-foot-long egg, weighing in at 1,200 pounds, nests on a ten-foot steel pole on First Street in Winlock, off Highway 505. It has returned to its original white color, though rumor has it that local high school students adorned it recently in Easter splendor for the holiday. The egg participates in the festival on Egg Day in late June annually.

Winlock was named after the army general Winlock M. Miller and was settled with immigrants from Finland, Sweden, and Germany. The city is about 1.29 square miles and is home to about 1,400 people. Kenny Stone, who won five National Basketball League championships, attended high school in Winlock.

It’s hard to imagine anything more egg-citing than the World’s Largest Egg. What will be our next stop as we celebrate our history in our tour across America?

Les Denton
www.LesDenton.com

Posted in America's Roadside Attractions, humor | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

SO HOW THE HECK DOES A BLOG HOP (ribbit)?

FrogPeekingOkay, so I love to blog! Any subject, any time. Blogging has helped me find enthusiasm for research, taken me to faraway places, and introduced me to new friends. What’s not to like? You can just imagine my excitement when my close friend, multi-genre author Deborah Riley-Magnus, asked me to participate in a Blog Hop. My immediate reply, “You bet!” Then I thought, “What the heck is a Blog Hop?” Well it turns out that this is really called The Next Big Thing, a train of authors cruising across the internet while talking about what will pop out of their imagination next. Well I’m double in! So off we go…

What is the working title of your book(s)?
Premeditated Chaos

Where did the idea come from for the book?
FrogApocalypseEvery day I read the news. Tensions in the mid-east seem to keep boiling. That’s nothing new. But it seems like the pot is being stirred on our own turf. Class and racial tension is fed by overzealous politicians, advocates, and community organizers. Reality TV is at an all time high in popularity and the shows that aren’t cruel and divisive are about survival and prepping for disaster. I got to thinking one day, “What would day-to-day life look like if we really did have a war right here in our own homes and communities?” The thought just kept plaguing me until I put pen to paper.

What genre does your book come under?
It’s apocalyptic horror with a splash of humor.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Our steady protagonist Leonard Getz could be played by someone like Jake Weber, but his loyal side kick Al would definitely be played by Steve Buscemi. Our colorful prepper Zed Merkel is a mixture of Michael Kelly and Quentin Tarantino. As for the kid who’s dream it is to roam the country visiting all the great roadside attractions, Chandler Riggs from The Walking Dead. His experience will come in handy.

What is the short synopsis of your book?
Was America’s sudden demise Premeditated Chaos? Leonard Getz finds his life intertwined with a group of everyday people scattered throughout the country as he navigates through a crumbling society to find the truth about the war and save his wife’s life.

Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
The book will be published by Bad Day Books, an imprint of Assent Publishing and is scheduled for release next winter.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
How long is the gestation period for an elephant? Yeah…that sounds about right. First books can be tough to deliver and this one led me through a lot of research. Most Americans have never lived through a war on their own soil. What happens when the lights go out, there areFrogJobless no more jobs to go to, or grocery stores to shop at? What is the psychological impact? I also researched other civil wars and even natural disasters to build a realistic picture of what life might look like for people in all walks of life in such extreme circumstances. And I am honored to have spent a lot of hands-on time with some of our brave veterans who generously shared their knowledge and experience with me.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
There are some heavy elements in the book. Things like war and governmental breakdown and restructuring. But there is also a lighter side showing the daily interacts we have with each other as family and community members. There are many apocalyptic books out there but frequently the disaster is the real protagonist. I wanted to focus on the people. From that perspective Stephen King’s The Stand comes the closest to capturing the spirit of the book.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My niece and nephew are in their teens. No matter what global nightmare you throw their way they approach it with level heads. They haven’t been jaded by society yet. I’d like to be able to offer them a better future that the one I see approaching, if only in fiction.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
FrogGlobeThe book strips humanity to the bone, showing not only the evil within each of us alone and as society, but the hope. Some of the habits and quirks of the characters along with hobbies like the road side attractions allowed me to share stories about everything from fun things like real road side attractions across the country to more serious fare about our national defense infrastructure. There are characters from all walks of life, a TSA worker, hair dresser, factory worker, policeman, and a politician or two.

Okay, next stop on the train ride . . . erotica author Terri Wolffe will join the hop on March 20. Multi-genre author Bill Denton will come on board March 27. See ya on the train!

PremeditatedChaosCoverLgWeb

Les Denton

Posted in Apocalypse, Horror, Premeditated Chaos | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Wiener Dogs

The week that my husband and I moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh, contractors were still completing the final work on our home: painting the entire inside white, and installing new light beige wall to wall carpeting throughout. The next week we bought a puppy. I had no idea at that time what a difference that warm little bundle of fur would make in my life with family, friends, and the world.

PupWe bought a miniature short haired red dachshund and named him Theodore, after “The Chipmunks”, with thoughts that perhaps a brother or two named Alvin and Simon might show up some day. I had never owned a dog, but had cats in the past and I thought “How hard could it be?” 

The breeder suggested that we immediately begin crate training, but since Theodore was only seven weeks old, we should get up every two hours at night to allow him to go to the bathroom and feed him something light to avoid blood sugar issues. Armed with this knowledge, the first night we left Theodore in his crate in the kitchen and off to bed we went. We spent the next several hours staring longingly at the clock for the next authorized check in while Theodore tugged at our heartstrings with some of the most pitiful sounds I have ever heard. Determined to do the right thing, we repeated this on night two. Amazingly Theodore didn’t make a peep all night long. I was right, how hard could it be? Night three answered that question. By the end of the week, Theodore was nuzzled comfortably between us when we went to bed. I began to realize that somebody was in charge, and it wasn’t me or Bill.

My entire family was excited about Theodore. My dad and Theodore instantly bonded. My sister brought her two kids over for the first time and we began making plans for future dinners and other events at our house, “Theodore’s first this and that” and “Can we bring toys?” There have been a lot of family challenges over the past couple of years, and Theodore has been there to help bring kindness and love into every situation, the good and the bad.

More than just my family began to notice this cute little puppy who could sit in the palm of my hand. Small groups of children started gathering in our front yard. We even had knocks at the door, followed by “Can Theodore come out and play?” or “Can we see Theodore?” This activity was followed by small groups of parents stopping by to apologize for their children’s bold interest in our dog so close to our just moving in. Of course, we were delighted to have such a wonderful opportunity to meet our neighbors of all ages. Having been away from Pittsburgh for decades, I did not know a lot of people in the area, and Bill had never lived here. 

Many of our neighbors have dogs of their own, and we began to hear about food tips, and pet stores with great stuff. The most impactful thing we heard about was “The Dog Whisperer”.  We weren’t sure what kind of dogs they got on that show, but they sure acted differently than Theodore. Cesar Milan went on and on about the importance of walking your dog. “Birds fly, fish swim, and dogs walk” he would say, but that couldn’t possibly apply to a dog as small as Theodore. We needed very specific help in teaching Theodore where to go to the bathroom and what not to chew. Cesar would say, “If you are a pack leader, the rest of the pack will naturally follow and respect your boundaries”. Of course we were the pack leaders, just look at the size of the little guy.

We were sure that there was something wrong with the dog, and that training him would correct the problems. The trainer’s first question was, “How often do you walk your dog?” I answered that we didn’t walk him very much because he pulled at the leash and it seemed to choke him. The truth of the matter is that this little pound and a half puppy walked us. The trainer took a hold of Theodore’s leash and the two of them walked in perfect harmony across the PetCo floor and back. This was an eye opener. The trainer said “You and Theodore will be fine. We will train you as a team so that you can learn to communicate with each other.” Ahhhh………a light bulb went off.

With encouragement from our family and neighbors, we continued through the Canine GoodHomePagePortrait Citizen program and passed the Therapy Dog International test. As we walk through the neighborhood today, two and three year old kids say “Off, you’re in training” as Theodore approaches. People shout “Good boy Theodore!” from passing cars. We also go to small dog socials, which have helped us both immensely with our communication skills, both human and canine. We went to a pet blessing at the church and have begun to build relationships there. As my mother’s health deteriorates and we explore next steps, Theodore’s Therapy Dog designation has helped smooth difficult conversations at various facilities for my dad. It has also helped me forge deeper relationships throughout the community. 

UnderdogTheodore has taught me to understand the viewpoints of other people, as I have sought to understand the viewpoint of a dog. He has taught me patience, willingness to look honestly at myself and change, and that belief in a bigger picture can have a profound impact on happiness. Dogs are perfect right out of the box. It’s us, the humans, who need training.

Les Denton
www.lesdenton.com

Posted in dogs, humor | Leave a comment

The Subtleties of Survival

Summertime is made for home projects. I love rummaging through the garage, discoveringFenceWoodSm long lost tools, lonely scraps of wood and metal, and partially built dreams of the past. Running to the home improvement store to buy more is just the icing on the cake.

Fall is when something actually gets accomplished. Productivity is driven by the fear of the inevitable, a drop in temperatures, perhaps even a snowflake or two. Once the grass stops growing, eliminating that pesky lawn mowing chore, my schedule opens up for a bit of fun. This year I decided to attack the back yard fence. Oh sure, I took it down two years ago, but the panels still lay in a pile against the house, awaiting final disassembly.

After four hours of removing nails and separating the wood I wondered how I would get it out of the yard into a trash collection approved sized pile. Aha! With an ear to ear grin I ran back into the garage and embraced my beloved chainsaw. With excitement I rolled an extension cord out to the pile of fence detritus, plugged in the chainsaw, and had at it.

ChainsawBeneath the pleasant purr of the chainsaw, I began to hear another sound. Was it whimpering? Was the rest of the fence pleading for mercy? No. It sounded more like…laughter. I looked behind me to find my neighbor from down the road doubled over, red faced, tears streaming, guffawing uncontrollably.  Then he began pointing at the power cord.

 “How ya gonna, hick, hick, hick. How ya gonna, hick, hick, hick.” He could barely get it out between the spasms of giggles, “How ya gonna kill zombies when the power goes out?”

How could I have missed that? It’s so obvious. And I own how many zombie movies? Everybody knows that electricity is the first thing to go. Everybody also knows that the chainsaw, while perhaps not key, is a savvy choice for survival gear. Why didn’t I put the two together?

ChainsawGirlSmRightThe mood was gone, so I got cleaned up and headed out to do a bit of shopping. I stopped at the bookstore first. Still stinging from the hysterical reaction to my chainsaw, I picked up a copy of The U.S. Navy SEAL Survival Handbook. I thought it might up my apocalyptic survival odds. On the way back I made another purchase. At the home improvement store. There wasn’t going to be any snickering the next day when I finished the fence job.

So how was your summer?

Les Denton
www.lesdenton.com

Posted in Apocalypse, Horror | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thank Goodness for Grocery Store Produce

 ChicagoSkylineThough I am now a suburban home owner, I lived in the city in apartments for decades. It was always a dream of mine to have a garden. During my last ten years in Chicago, I was determined to make this happen, if only indoors. Early one spring I did some research and found that strawberry plants are good candidates for indoor window sills or even hanging baskets.

We had a penthouse apartment with two complete walls of ceiling to floor windows facing the east and south. There was plenty of sunshine and I was ready to go. I ran right out to the home improvement store and purchased a bunch of window boxes and the right mixture of dirt. I got on the computer and ordered some strawberry plants and some fun dwarf snapdragon seeds online.

I was thrilled when they arrived. I opened the packages and ran through the instructions with the same speed and enthusiasm I use on Christmas morning opening my favorite toy. Strawberry plants come packaged in big clumps held together with a rubber band. All the roots are mixed together at one end, and the leafy plants at the other. My first task was to fill a large metal mixing bowl with water, gently separate the roots of the strawberry plants, and place them in the bowl to soak for a couple of hours. While they soaked, I filled a couple of pots with dirt and planted the snapdragon seeds. Once watered, they were done.

After glancing anxiously at my watch every five minutes during the required soaking time, I went back to the strawberries. I carefully laid the roots deep and straight out, not bunched up. I eyeballed each plant’s crown, lovingly positioning it level with the dirt.

StrawberriesAfter about a week of sunshine, I could see a fuzz of green carpet in the snapdragon pots, and a couple of small white flowers in the strawberry bins. I was off and running toward a bumper crop.

It was all downhill from there. It was spring, and it was rainy. We didn’t have another sunny day for two weeks. While the snapdragons continued well, I began to notice a fuzz of green carpet in the strawberry bins too. It was mold. Plants that had begun to come to life began to wilt. The green leaves were atrophying with black curly edges. Within a month, all of the strawberries died. My only peace came from the bright, colorful snapdragons, now in full bloom.

I don’t give up easily. The next year I tried again. I added small rocks to the bottom of the strawberry bins to increase drainage. No success. The following year, I changed to cactus dirt to avoid root rot. No success. Every year for a decade I tried something new and failed. I did produce five strawberries in my best year. I savored sweet succulent success over several bowls of cereal.

When we moved to a house with a yard in Pittsburgh I was very excited. I knew my days of gardening strife were gone. The house is surrounded by huge spruce trees that rain a perfect bed of acidic soil. I bought strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and even asparagus that first spring. I planted everywhere.  My neighbors and family were first in line to praise my gardening efforts. The local wildlife was second. 

They lined up from the chipmunk to the deer and all partook in a feast of fruit. One day I went out to survey my strawberry subdivision, and gasped. It looked like a scene from Groundhog Day. The chipmunks came up from below and pulled every single strawberry plant underground. I was looking at a series of neatly spaced holes. How can it be that a gal who makes a living writing ways to successfully navigate an apocalypse can’t outsmart a family of chipmunks?

I used a divide and conquer strategy with the blueberries. The ones that I could see outside my kitchen window seemed fine, but the ones to the left of the property seemed to be shrinking. Every day they looked shorter. I started to keep a close eye on them and one morning spotted a bunny having his morning munch. By that time there was only one bush left and he was more than half way through it.

I was panic stricken as I ran over the hill only find my worst fears had come true. TheBerryBunker raspberries and cranberries were almost gone too. All that remained was the asparagus and the half of the blueberry bushes that the bunny didn’t seem to see. After that first winter, the asparagus was gone too.

I knew then what I had to do. I marched back to the home improvement store and bought materials to build a bunker. This was war. After two years of construction, I built, assembled, and moved into position four nine by three foot raised beds. Last summer I carried over two tons of dirt from the store to the beds. I moved the only survivors, four blueberry bushes, into one of the beds. Though the plants survived, birds have eaten every blueberry for the past two years.

BerriesLast year I was able to place bird netting around my fruit bunker before the berries ripened. When I picked my first blueberries of the year, the smile was ear to ear as I enjoyed the blueberries on my cereal. My little wiener dog Theodore enjoyed some with breakfast too. He seems to like them. To me they taste sweet. Like victory.

It is spring again and it is war. I am preparing the soil and planting will begin once the evening frosts ebb. Follow along to see if the bunkers prevail or if the score is wildlife two, Les zero.

Les Denton
www.lesdenton.com

Posted in gardening, humor, war | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment