A Valentine Story

11e649a7275ad55ea28ce4b53a4cce38As a junior in high school, without realizing it, my hormones were asserting themselves…peach fuzz on my chin and red blotches all over my fifteen year old face. I liked girls. I liked the way they looked, moved, talked, smelled…everything. I spent a lot of time just thinking about them.

So, when the High School Valentine’s Day Dance came along, and even though I had no clue on the dance floor, I wanted to go. It was one of those I’m-afraid-but-want-to things. You know, like your first head-first dive off a diving board.The first problem was with whom. My class only had twenty-eight kids and nineteen were guys, so the pickings were slim. Almost all the sophomore girls were dating somebody, but there was one…one who really caught my eye.

Now understand, of course Valentine’s Day is February 14th and I’m considering all of this in November. I had at least two months to plan my approach, fine tune it, find the right timing, then pop the question. Well, it would seem like I had plenty of time, but I kept delaying. I would wait until I had a fresh haircut, but each time something else was not perfect. Like my white buck shoes being scuffed or my Levi’s wrinkled…always something.

In late January, my mom asked me my plans and I told her I was working on it. She said if I was going to ask somebody, I needed to give the girl plenty of time to buy a dress. At least a couple of weeks. I had to act fast. Meantime, everybody knew. I had quietly told my best friend, I was going to ask Gail and in twenty-four hours, everybody knew. Even she knew. I would pass her in the hall and she would look at me, raise her eyebrows like “Well, would you get this over” and I would hesitate, lose my nerve and walk on. I could see some disgust on her face.

It was a late Friday afternoon one week before the big day and I’m walking toward my locker and there’s Gail standing next to it. She gave me plenty of time to ask, but I was absolutely tongue-tied. Finally, she just said, “Pick me up at seven.” smiled and walked away. I was a namby-pamby coward.

The big night arrived. At fifteen I didn’t have a driver’s license so that meant my mom had to take me to pick Gail up. Our car was a 1954 Mercury two door hard top. No back door. So, when we arrived to pick her up, I rang the bell, she stepped out and when we got to the car, I didn’t know what to do. Should I sit in the back and her in the front? Or her in the back and me in the front? Or both of us in the back? But my mother was there! Awkwardly, I stood there and she got in the back, then slid over which was the signal for me to sit next to her. She had an embarrassed smile on her face, but she had saved me again.

I won’t bore you with the details of the dance because there’s not enough space, but the trip back to her house was worth noting. With my mom driving again, she pulled up in front of Gail’s house. The porch light was shining ever so bright and my mom was watching (I know she was laughing). At front of her door, I froze again. There I was. My first date ever, looking gorgeous, my mom looking from the car only thirty feet away. No privacy. No guts. My armpits were sweating.

I was holding her hand. She knew what was going on. She tugged on my hand and I kissed her…on the cheek. That was the best I could do.

Just call me a wimp.

Posted in Beginnings, Holidays

Oh to Be King: A Christmas Memory


I was six years old and was looking forward to this Christmas because I had personally asked Santa for a special black onyx marble that was all I needed to become the world’s best marble shooter. I knew I would find it under the tree because when my Mom had taken me to Kresge’s, Santa had asked what I wanted and he said he thought he could arrange that. I even think he winked at my Mom when he said it. As far as I was concerned that was a solemn promise. Written in stone. As sure as I knew my name.

At my school, marbles was played against a wall. From six feet away, the player who tossed a shooter marble closest to the wall won a marble from each of the other players. Small marbles worked best because you could nestled them up real close to the wall verses bigger marbles that would bounce and frequently land a inch or so away. Some of the older kids had giant bags of marbles they had won.

On Christmas, when I got my special marble, I would be the King of marbles. My marble bag would dwarf all others. I even envisioned having to use my Radio Flyer wagon to carry my bag of marbles. All the guys in my class would stare enviously at my huge bag. Not to mention the oohs and aahs from some of the girls. Of course the only girl I really cared about was Mary Kay. Even though she was in the second grade and a year older than me, I knew she would have to take notice. Life would be so sweet.

On Christmas Eve day it snowed. I was delighted because that meant Santa would have snow on the roof for his sleigh and reindeer. Late that afternoon, Mom asked me to shovel the sidewalk. I put on my snow suit, boots and mittens and armed with a shovel and good intentions I started from the house and worked toward the road. I started to think about why I should shovel the walk when Santa was coming down through the chimney. My mind drifted and I started to make snow angels in the snow. Then I tried making a snowman but the snow was too dry. Then Mom yelled out the door for me to stop goofing around and finish the walk, she seemed a bit grumpy. Maybe it was because she had so much to do with the cooking and all.

When I scooped up the snow from the walk, I made little piles on the side. I decided to make one big pile. It quickly became a fort and I built it up high so I could hide behind it. I imagined being attacked by the neighbor boys and me soundly defeating them because of my impenetrable fort. It was almost dark and when Mom called me to supper, she saw that the walk was still not shoveled. She was mad and told me Santa might not come because I was so disobedient.

The mood at the supper table was almost as cold as it was outside. Dad asked me why I didn’t do as I was told. I had no good answer. After the meal, Mom told me to go to bed and the dream of being King of marbles started to fade. After a near sleepless night, I heard Mom in the kitchen, so I came down and sure enough, there was no sign that Santa had arrived. Nothing was under the tree. My heart sank. Mom could probably see the anguish in my face. She told me Santa may have decided not to come, however, because of the snow storm, he might be just a little late.

I dressed for church with the idea that he would certainly come while we were gone. My dream of being King was still alive…barely. When we pulled out of the garage and drove toward the church, I saw Santa walking down the sidewalk. He had a bag of toys on his back but he was walking away from the house. He wasn’t coming. I slunk down in the back seat and my eyes teared over. At church I started to feel sick to my stomach. Halfway through Mass, I knew my breakfast was not longed for this world and rushed out toward the rear. I made as far as the vestibule. I just stood there looking at the mess I had made.

My stomach was still in knots when we arrived home. Mom and Dad were looking at me funny when I stepped into the kitchen. They wanted me to go first. Mom said that she thought Santa had arrived. When I looked under the tree, I saw a large box all wrapped up in Christmas paper. It had a tag on it with my name. I thought it couldn’t be a marble in such a large box, but I opened it anyway. Inside the box was another, slightly smaller. I tore into it and inside that box was another. Then another. I started to figure it all out and started to grin. When I got to the last box, it contained my black onyx marble in all its shiny glory.

Ultimately, Mary Kay never noticed, but I didn’t care. I was, in my own mind at least, King.

A shortened-for-space version of this essay was recently published in the Ocean Reef Press . . .

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Posted in Holidays, Short Stories, Writing Life

A Civil War Thanksgiving: Recipes from Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery


“Every one knows that “the” event of Thanksgiving Day is the Thanksgiving dinner. And it is right and reasonable that it should be thus. For a good dinner is the crowning achievement of every home. It strikes a chord to which all hearts are responsive.”—Godey’s Lady’s Book

While the most widely recognized “first” Thanksgiving was shared in 1621 by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony, it would take another 242 years before the harvest celebration was an “official” holiday—established October 3, 1863 in a Proclamation signed into effect by President Abraham Lincoln asking for a “national day of thanksgiving.”

According to Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, a Thanksgiving Dinner in the 1860s, might include: Oyster soup, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, mixed pickles, cold slaw, sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli, mince pie, apple pie, fruits, nuts, and raisins. Sounds pretty good, right? That is until we start digging in to the actual recipes . . . .

For this, we turned to Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery, Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches by Eliza Leslie—one of the most popular American cookbooks of its time and one Mary Todd Lincoln used to teach herself how to cook.

A word of caution: You might want to think twice before trying these at home. Just sayin’.


Season two quarts of oysters with a little cayenne. Then take them out of the liquor. Grate and roll fine a dozen crackers. Put them into the liquor with a large lump of fresh butter. When the grated biscuit has quite dissolved, add a quart of milk with a grated nutmeg, and a dozen blades of mace; and, if in season, a head of celery split fine and cut into small pieces. Season it to your taste with pepper. 

Mix the whole togethr, and set it in a closely covered vessel over a slow fire. When it comes to a boil, put itin the oysters; and when it comes to a boil again, they will be sufciently (sic) done. Before you send it to table put into the gureen some toasted bread cut into small squares, omitting the crust. 


Make a force-meat of grated bread-crumbs, minced suiet, sweet marjoram, grated lemon-peel, nutmeg, pepper, salt and beaten yolk of egg. You may add some grated cold ham. Light some writing paper, and singe the hairs from the skin of the turkey. Reserve the neck, liver, and gizzard for the gravy. Stuff the craw of the turkey with the force-meat, of which there should be enough made to form into balls for frying, laying them round the turkey when it is dished. Dredge it with flour, and roast it before a clear brisk fire, basting it with cold lard. Towards the last, set the turkey mearer to the fire, dredge it again very lightly with flour, and bast it with butter. It will require, according to its size, from two to three hours roasting. 

Make the gravy of the giblets cut in pieces, seasoned, and stewed for two hours in a very little water; thicken it with a spoonful of browned flour, and stir into it the gravy from the dripping-pan, having first skimmed off the fat. 

A turkey should be accompanied by ham or tongue. Serve up with it mushroom-sauce. Have stewed cranberries on the table to eat with it. Do not help any one to the legs, or drum-sticks as they are called. 

Turkeys are sometimes stuffed entirely with sausage-meat. Small cakes of this meat should then be fried, and laid round it. 


Select fine large sweet potatoes, all nearly the same size. Boil them well and then peel off the skins. Then lay the potatoes in a large baking-dish; put some pieces of fresh butter among them, and sprinkle them very freely with powdered sugar. Bake them slowly, till the butter and sugar form a crust. They should be eaten after the meat. This is a Carolina dish, and will be found very good. 


Take a large fresh tongue, rub it with a mixture, in equal proportions, of salt, brown sugar, and powdered cloves. Cover it, and let it lie two days, or at least twenty-four hours. Then boil it two hours, and when it is cold, skin it, and mince it very fine. Chop also three pounds of beef suet, six pounds of sultana raisins, and six pounds of the best pippin apples that have been previously pared and cored. Add three pounds of currants, picked, washed and dried; two large table-spoonfuls of powdered cinnamon; the juice and grated rinds of four large lemons; one pound of sweet almonds, one ounce of bitter almonds, balanced and pounded in a mortar with half a pint of rose water; also four powdered nutmegs; two dozen beaten cloves; and a dozen blades of mace powdered. Add a pound of powdered white sugar, and a pound of citron cut into slips. Mix all together, and moisten it with a quart of cream. 

If you cannot obtain cream, you may substitute a quarter of a pound of fresh butter stirred with the sugar and quince. 


Make a paste, allowing a poiund of butter, or of chopped suet to two pounds and a quarter of flour. Have ready a sufficient quantity of fine juicy acid apples, pared, cored, and sliced. Mix with them brown sugar enough to sweet them, a few cloves, and some slips of lemon-peel. Butter the sides of an iron pot, and line them with paste. Then put in the apples, interspersing them with thin squared of paste, and add a very little water. Cover the whole with a thick lid of paste, cutting a slit in the centre for the water to bubble,up and let it boil two hours. When done, serve it up on a large dish, and eat it with butter and sugar. 

Bon Appetit!


Avey, Tori (2012), Thanksgiving, Lincoln and Pumpkin Pudding, The History Kitchen

Croly, J.C. (1866), Miss Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, American News Company, NY

Gambino, Megan (2011), What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving, Smithsonian.com

Leslie, Eliza (1837, Reprint 1853), Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery, Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches, Applewood Books, Bedford, MA

Thomas, JD (2015), A Year in the Home: November, Godey’s Lady’s Book, Accessible Archives

*Updated 11/2017

Posted in Holidays

The San Francisco Review of Books takes a look at Scarred

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Book Review: ‘Scarred’ by Michael Kenneth Smith

Author and master storyteller Michael Kenneth Smith trained as a mechanical engineer, owned and operated a successful auto parts business, and after twenty years, retired to fish, golf, cook, playing bridge, and become an oenophile (a lover or connoisseur of wine), socialized, and even edited a local newspaper – his introduction to the written word. He now adds publishing novels to his resume – his first novel being the highly regarded HOME AGAIN – and now he offers SCARRED.

When writing an historical novel it is wise to open the spectrum of the coming stories background with a back story – a Prologue in Michael’s case – which opens in Virginia 1863 – ‘Gray early morning light seeped through the tall sycamores next to the riverbank. The hollow sound of a distant woodpecker broke the silence. The scope of a rifle followed the Confederate sharpshooter as he climbed a tree to his hidden platform. The scope’s spider lines centered on the man’s head and Zach Harkin squeezed the trigger. Blood and bone splattered against the tree as the gunshot echoed through the forest. Zach climbed the tree and stared at the dead man whose lower jaw had been blown away. This same sharpshooter had shot his best friend the day before. His upper torso leaned against the tree in a sitting position, both legs splayed out in front of him. His eyes were still open, and Zach felt as if they were looking directly at him with a shocked expression. He searched and found the man’s logbook. As he flipped through, he found the last entry from the day before: ‘Shot a man on the other side of the river. He was on picket duty. Poor bastard. Two more days and I’m on two-week leave to go home. Seems like an eternity since I’ve seen her.’ Then a small picture fell from the pages. Zach stared at the image of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He closed the book, slid it into his pocket and climbed down the tree. His thirst for revenge had turned to guilt and the need for redemption.’

Michael jumps to Tennessee 1908 where Zach is asked to write a series of articles about the Civil War, and specifically about his exploits at Shiloh as a sharpshooter. This is a fundamentally sound manner to write a story of recall and Michael pulls it off with style. As the synopsis phrases, ‘After fatally shooting the Confederate sharpshooter who killed his best friend, Zach Harkin’s sense of revenge changes to deep remorse when he views the dead man’s diary and photo. Haunted, suffering from post traumatic stress, and unable to serve, he is mustered out of service. With scant information, he begins an epic journey to search for the dead man’s family. He is captured, imprisoned, tortured, and thoroughly tested as a human being, but after escaping, he never expects to find love in the war ravaged South.’

Powerful writing from an experienced hand. Stories such as SCARRED tell us more about both our history and about the ravages of war than the usual novel. We can only hope Michael continues to share.

Get your copy of Scarred: A Civil War Novel of Redemption. 

Editor’s note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB‘s free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles.

Posted in Scarred

August 19, 2017: #SaturdayScene

41aQztLhJ6LThis week’s #SaturdayScene features Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts of which Peter Geye (Wintering) noted, “If you’re a fan of Grace Paley or Ann Beattie or Tobias Wolfe, you’ll surely find something to love in these pages.” 

In these ten elegantly written short stories, Hamilton Summie takes readers from WWII Kansas City to a poor, drug-ridden neighborhood in New York, and from the quiet of rural Minnesota to its pulsing Twin Cities, each time navigating the geographical boundaries that shape our lives as well as the geography of tender hearts, loss, and family bonds. The following is excerpted from her story “Patchwork”. 

Cecily Manning Morris Huffner Bowes. The fifth of nine children, squashed between Jocelyn and Edward, both of whom died of diphtheria. Born in 1909, died in 1953.  Left no will.

“That,” my grandmother once said, “is a crock.  She left plenty of will behind, just not the kind they were looking for.”

Grandma talked about Cecily on rare occasions, on days when I traipsed home from school in thick snow, and dark came early, and we sat at the kitchen table reviewing the day. Maybe after a glass of wine, when Grandpa started telling stories, and Grandma would insist he had them wrong, and the stories got lost temporarily in the debate. Sometimes then, amidst the chaos, Cecily came through in a line.

I knew that Cecily had sinned, but I didn’t know what could drive her apart from the family, make her what she had become, a whisper, a sideways glance, an interrupted line, never recovered. Didn’t she deserve a sentence or two in the family history? Everyone got at least a line. Each lady also got a square.

In my parents’ basement, packed carefully into cardboard boxes with the baby clothes my mother hopes to pass on, is the women’s patchwork quilt. Each generation adds a row, or at least a square.  My grandmother’s square is now pale yellow. It’s plain save for the careful red stitching that makes her name. Catherine Andersen.

The plainness of her square is striking in a patchwork quilt of names and symbols, favorite colors and long quotes.  Whitman. Roosevelt. The Bible. Her name is all she needed to record. I was here, it seems to say, once a long time ago, and I was called Catherine.

I am Sarah, and I will not sew my name for years. I won’t sew my name until I know who I am, can script with such confidence the identity I struggle to define, until I know, as easily, and with such simplicity, the way to be remembered.

Cecily knew. In the second to last row of the quilt is her square, all her names in succession, each one stitched in a different color.

How she had added hers, I’ll never know. By the time she had accumulated all those names, she was already persona non grata. But if anyone could get something done, it had to be Cecily.

Cecily, I was told, flipped her long, gold hair once too often. Cecily liked to watch football games with Grandpa, smoking cigarettes one after the other. She went through men just as fast, Grandma said. Cecily used to waltz into Grandma’s house, swinging that hair, swinging those slim little hips. She had all the curves in all the right places and liked to show them off, to twist around on the sidewalk to see who might be watching her, to sashay into one of Grandpa’s card games or football parties and take a seat.

After all the buildup, I’d expected more. A bank robber, a witch. But what I got was a sassy woman who had had no luck in love. Nothing about Cecily seemed shocking. After all, I lived with my boyfriend, Al. I didn’t think she should have been run out of the family will, erased from the family tree. I thought she deserved a round of applause for persistence. And though I wasn’t supposed to, I surreptitiously began to write Cecily into the family stories, giving her entire sections all her own because no one, it seemed, would share a story with her.

Purchase your copy of To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts from your favorite retailer: 

Amazon  |  Barnes& Noble  |  Kobo Books  |  From your favorite Indie Bookseller

About the Author: Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season Review, and Long Story, Short. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Visit the author’s website. 

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

August 12, 2017: #SaturdayScene

51-BEUEL7OLThis week’s #SaturdayScene features The Language of Trees by Steve Wiegenstein. The inhabitants of Daybreak, a quiet 19th-century utopian community, are courted by a powerful lumber and mining trust and must search their souls as the lure of sudden wealth tests age-old ideals. Love, lust, deception, ambition, violence, repentance, and reconciliation abound as the citizens of Daybreak try to live out oft-scorned values in a world that is changing around them with terrifying speed.

Charlotte Turner fidgeted on the dais as her son’s speech entered its twentieth minute. The crown of flowers on her head itched, and she longed to take it off. But the children of the community had made crowns for all the original settlers as a school project, so on it would stay, grapevines and ivy and a strand of bittersweet.

She glanced down the row at the other originals. John Wesley Wickman, upright and pugnacious, fiercer in old age than he’d ever been as a younger man, his glassy gaze reflecting an inner confusion that accounted for his fits of vehemence. Marie Mercadier, similarly afflicted with an inward absence, but from an old head injury, not the erosion of time. And Charley Pettibone, a few years younger than the rest of them, placid as a plow ox, tamed by twenty years of good meals, no longer the rambunctious lad who showed up at the colony with nothing more than a sack of borrowed clothing.

Was that all of them? Just the four? So it was. All the rest gone, lost to time, age, war. So many never came back from the war, and those who did were not the same. Her late husband, for one. So now the next generation had to carry the torch, or so Newton was saying as she refocused her attention on his speech.

Thirty years ago they came in wagons and on horseback, and on flatboats up the river. A hundred people—two score families—to break the soil and subdue the forest. And more important, to establish a new way of living, one in which the artificial divide between wealthy and poor is swept away through common ownership, common purpose, and universal suffrage. Radical ideas then, and radical ideas now. But now the mantle is ours—

Not bad, Charlotte thought, but not delivered with the verve of his father. Now there was a man who could bind a crowd. The first time she’d seen him speak, springing across a makeshift stage made of wagon beds in an open field filled with rapt listeners, her heart had pounded at his galvanism. Newton had inherited his looks, but not his charm. Just as well. James’s charm had led him into places— No. She had made a rule long ago not to revisit the past. The past was where nostalgia and resentment lived, and she had no use for either. Yet here she was, sitting on the dais in the Temple of Community during their anniversary celebration like the figure of Nostalgia herself, a living reminder of once-upon-a-time.

Language of Trees will be published in September. You can pre-order your copy today:

Amazon  |  From your favorite Indie Bookseller

About the Author: Steve Wiegenstein is the author of Slant of Light (2012) and This Old World (2014). Slant of Light was the runner-up for the David J. Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction, and This Old World was a shortlisted finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award in Historical Fiction. Steve grew up in the Missouri Ozarks and worked there as a newspaper reporter before entering the field of higher education. He now lives in Columbia, Missouri.

Visit the author’s website. 

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

July 22, 2017: #SaturdayScene

This week’s #SaturdayScene is a continuation of last week’s excerpt from Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad—the dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the antislavery activists who defied the law to help them reach freedom. Here, we meet-up with Frederick Bailey, having just crossed the Hudson River to a dock at the foot of Chambers Street in New York City. 

In spite of his exhilaration, Bailey was frightened, alone, and had no real plan about what to do next.  He encountered Jake, a fugitive slave he had known in Maryland, who warned him that although they were in a free state, slave catchers roamed the city’s streets.  Shortly thereafter, a “warm-hearted and generous” black sailor directed him to the home of David Ruggles at 36 Lispenard Street, not far from the docks.  Ruggles was secretary and prime mover of the New York Vigilance Committee, founded three years earlier to combat an epidemic of kidnapping.  Many years before Solomon Northup drew attention to this problem in his widely-read memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, free blacks, frequently young children, were abducted on New York’s streets for sale into southern slavery.  The committee also provided fugitives from the South with shelter, transportation, and if they were apprehended, legal representation.  By 1838, Ruggles was the leader of a network with connections to antislavery activists in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New England, and upstate New York.  He regularly scoured the wharfs, on the lookout for fugitive slaves.  Ruggles took Bailey into his home, advised him to change his name to help avoid recapture–Frederick Bailey now became Frederick Johnson–gave him his first introduction to antislavery activities, and mailed a letter to Anna Murray, urging her to come to New York at once. A few days later the couple married in Ruggles’ parlor.  The Rev. James W. C. Pennington performed the ceremony.

Like Bailey, Pennington (born James Pembroke) was a fugitive slave.  He had escaped in 1827, at the age of twenty-one, from Washington County, Maryland, just south of the Mason-Dixon line, leaving behind his parents and ten brothers and sisters.  Pembroke’s journey to freedom proved far more harrowing than Bailey’s. He started out on foot but with “no knowledge of distance or direction,” ended up heading southeast, toward Baltimore, not north.  He received advice from a number of people, white and black, about how to avoid slave catchers, but at one point a group of men seized him, hoping to claim the two hundred dollars reward his owner had advertised for his return.  Pembroke managed to escape from his captors and eventually made his way to southern Pennsylvania, where a Quaker couple, William and Phoebe Wright, sheltered him for six months, paid him for work as a farm laborer, and taught him to read and write.  Pennington moved on to New York City in 1828.  He found a job in Brooklyn, attended classes in the evening, and became a teacher in a black school on Long Island.  By the time he officiated at the Baileys’ wedding Pennington had become pastor of a local Congregational church.

Unlike Pennington, Frederick Bailey/Johnson did not remain in New York.  He considered himself “comparatively safe,” but Ruggles appreciated the precarious situation of fugitives in the city.  Soon after their wedding he gave the couple five dollars (more than a week’s wages for a manual laborer at the time) and told them to head to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where another black abolitionist would receive them.  A major port city, New Bedford was the world’s whaling capital.  Its shipyards and ocean-going vessels provided employment to many free blacks and escaped slaves.  Indeed, because of its strong abolitionist movement and thriving black community long accustomed to sheltering runaways, the city was known as the “fugitive’s Gibralter” (or, as a Virginia newspaper put it, “a den of negro thieves and fugitive protectors.”)  In the fall of 1838, having discovered that in New Bedford, Johnson families were “so numerous as to cause some confusion in distinguishing one from another,” Frederick Bailey changed his name one last time. Henceforth, he would be known as Frederick Douglass.

Purchase your copy of Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroadwinner of the American History Book Prize by the New-York Historical Society, from your favorite retailer:

Amazon  |  Apple  |  B&N  |  Kobo  |  Find your favorite Indie Bookseller

About the Author: Eric Foner is the preeminent historian of his generation, highly respected by historians of every stripe―whether they specialize in political history or social history. His books have won the top awards in the profession, and he has been president of both major history organizations: the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. A specialist on the Civil War/Reconstruction period, he regularly teaches the nineteenth-century survey at Columbia University, where he is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History. In 2011, Foner’s The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize.

Visit Eric Foner’s website.

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

July 15, 2017: #SaturdayScene

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“Illuminating . . . an invaluable addition to our history.”
– Kevin Baker, New York Times Book Review

“[A] detailed narrative . . . infused with the spirit of freedom.”—Bruce Watson, San Francisco Chronicle

“Riveting . . . a visceral chronicle of defiance and sacrifice.”—Edward P. Jones, O Magazine

More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America’s history. In Gateway to Freedom, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian makes brilliant use of extraordinary evidence—and, once again, reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom.

This week’s #SaturdayScene is excerpted from Foner’s Gateway to Freedom—the dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the antislavery activists who defied the law to help them reach freedom.

The nineteenth century’s most celebrated black American first tasted freedom on September 4, 1838, when he arrived in New York City as a nineteen-year-old fugitive slave.  Frederick Bailey had long hoped to escape from bondage.  As a youth in Maryland he gazed out at the ships on Chesapeake Bay, seeing them as “freedom’s swift-winged angels.”  He secretly taught himself to read and write, understanding, he later wrote, that knowledge was “the pathway from slavery to freedom.”  In 1836, he and four friends devised a plan to abscond by canoe onto the bay and somehow make their way north.  But the plan was discovered and before their departure the five were arrested, jailed, and returned to their owners.

Two years later, while working as a caulker in a Baltimore shipyard, Bailey again plotted his escape, this time with the assistance of Anna Murray, a free black woman he planned to marry. She provided the money for a rail ticket and Bailey borrowed papers from a retired black sailor identifying him as a free man.  Dressed in nautical attire he boarded a train, hoping to reach New York City.  Maryland law required black passengers on the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore line (which opened only a year before Douglass’s escape) to apply for tickets before 8 a. m. on the day of travel so that their free papers could be examined and, if necessary, investigated.  But the measure remained largely unenforced.  Douglass used a printed timetable to arrive at the station at the moment of a train’s departure and purchased his ticket on board to avoid scrutiny.

Despite the short distance–less than two hundred miles–the trip proved arduous and complicated. Thirty-five miles north of Baltimore the passengers had to disembark to cross the Susquehanna River by ferry.  At Wilmington, they boarded a steamboat for Philadelphia.  There, Bailey later recalled, “I enquired of a colored man how I could get on to New York.” The man directed him to a depot where Bailey took a ferry to Camden, New Jersey, then the Camden and Amboy railroad to South Amboy, then another ferry across the Hudson River to a dock at the foot of Chambers Street.  Less than twenty-four hours after leaving Baltimore, he disembarked on free soil.  “A new world burst upon my agitated vision,” he would later write.

To be continued. . . join us next week for another excerpt from Gateway to Freedom. 

Can’t wait? Get your copy of Gateway to Freedom, winner of the American History Book Prize by the New-York Historical Society, from your favorite retailer:

Amazon  |  Apple  |  B&N  |  Kobo  |  Find your favorite Indie Bookseller

About the Author: Eric Foner is the preeminent historian of his generation, highly respected by historians of every stripe―whether they specialize in political history or social history. His books have won the top awards in the profession, and he has been president of both major history organizations: the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. A specialist on the Civil War/Reconstruction period, he regularly teaches the nineteenth-century survey at Columbia University, where he is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History. In 2011, Foner’s The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize.

Visit Eric Foner’s website.

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

July 8, 2017: #SaturdayScene

New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson (Dead Wake) called it “A rip-roaring saga of hair-breadth escape,last-home-island-book espionage, and resistance.” Being Nixon‘s Evan Thomas notes “Lynne Olson is a master storyteller.” I could not agree more with either of these gentlemen, and I am delighted to share with you, dear readers, this week’s #SaturdayScene from bestselling author Lynne Olson.

Excerpted from her latest work,  Last Hope Island—an epic, character-driven narrative of Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War—this week’s #SaturdayScene opens on the eve of Germany’s invasion of Denmark and Norway, April 1940.

“On April 8, 1940,  just after midnight, officials in the Norwegian government were awakened by urgent phone calls informing them that several ships of unknown origin had entered the fjord leading to Oslo. A sea fog blanketing the fjord made it impossible to identify the ghostly armada’s markings. Within minutes, however, the mystery of their nationality was solved when reports of surprise German attacks on every major port in Norway and Denmark began flooding Norwegian government offices.

            Aboard the German heavy cruiser Blücher, Gen. Erwin Engelbrecht, who commanded the attack force heading for Oslo, reviewed his orders with his subordinates. In just a few hours, more than a thousand troops, equipped with minutely detailed maps and photographs of the Norwegian capital, were to disembark from the Blücher in Oslo’s harbor. Their assignment was to slip into the sleeping city and storm government buildings, the state radio station, and the royal palace. Before noon, King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, and the rest of the royal family would be under arrest and the Norwegian government under German control. A band, also on board the Blücher, would play “Deutschland Uber Alles” in the city’s center to celebrate Germany’s triumph, while German military officials took over administration of the country and its two most important material assets — its merchant marine and its gold.

            When a Norwegian patrol boat spotted the flotilla and had the temerity to issue a challenge, the boat was machine-gunned and sunk. Further up the fjord, two small island forts, alerted by the patrol boat, also fired on the ships, but the heavy fog made accurate sighting impossible and the vessels swept on untouched. Shortly before 4 a.m., the convoy approached Oscarborg Fortress, an island stronghold built in the mid-nineteenth century and Oslo’s last major line of defense. The Blücher’s captain was as unperturbed by the sight of the fortress as he had been by the pesky patrol boat. On his charts and maps, Oscarborg was identified as a museum and its two antiquated cannons described as obsolete.

            The maps and charts were wrong on both counts. The fortress was operational, and so were the old cannons, fondly called “Moses” and “Aaron” by their crews. The fog lifted a bit, and as the darkened silhouettes of the ships came into view, a searchlight on the mainland suddenly illuminated the Blücher.  Moses and Aaron erupted at point-blank range, their shells crashing into the 12,000-ton heavy cruiser. One shell smashed into the Blucher’s bridge, destroying its gunnery and navigational controls, while another slammed into a storeroom filled with aviation fuel.  Shore batteries also began firing. Within seconds, the Blücher was ablaze, the flames leaping high in the air, burning off the fog and lighting up the snow-covered banks of the fjord.

            With a great roar, the ship’s torpedo magazine exploded, and less than an hour later, the Blücher, commissioned only seven months before, rolled over on its side and sank. Nearly one thousand men went down with her, including most of the elite troops assigned to capture the royal family and government officials. Gen. Engelbrecht was one of the several hundred survivors who escaped the burning oil covering the fjord’s surface and swam frantically to shore.

            Throughout that day –April 9, 1940 — Hitler’s audacious, meticulously planned invasion of Denmark and Norway had gone almost exactly as planned. By early afternoon, virtually all the Fuhrer’s major objectives  along 1,500 miles of Norwegian coastline had been taken. All, that is, except Oslo, the political, economic, and communications center of Norway and the key to the operation’s eventual success.”

Order your copy from  Amazon  |  Apple  |  B&N  |  Kobo  or from your favorite Indie bookseller.

About the Author: Lynne Olson is a New York Times bestselling author of seven books of history, most of which deal in some way with World War II and Britain’s crucial role in that conflict. Born in Hawaii, Olson graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arizona. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked as a journalist for ten years, first with the Associated Press as a national feature writer in New York, a foreign correspondent in AP’s Moscow bureau, and a political reporter in Washington. She left the AP to join the Washington bureau of the Baltimore Sun, where she covered national politics and eventually the White House. Olson lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Stanley Cloud, with whom she co-authored two books.

Visit Lynne Olson’s website to learn more.

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances

June 24, 2017: #SaturdayScene

This week’s #SaturdayScene showcases author Mary Carlomagno’s debut novel, BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE. Jersey Girl Jessie DeSalvo has her dream job at one of New York’s top publishing companies. After ten years of hard work the day of her big promotion has arrived. Unfortunately, her company has other ideas. Instead of a corner office, Jessie is handed her pink slip.

BFFH Cover_v4.2 7.38.40 AMMy new hot pink crocodile iPad case was lined up with its office accessory family. The iPad itself was just one of the many things I was going to buy to celebrate my promotion to Publicity Director. Being Assistant Director was a big job at my company, despite the fact that there had never been a director for me to report to. It had only taken me T-E-N Y-E-A-R-S to make it from Assistant to Assistant Director. When “STS” came up on my phone screen, my heart leapt in excitement. I got it, I thought. Maybe there was even a little surprise breakfast being planned. I dreamed of that office deliveryman bringing trays of treats to successful executives. Really successful people never sneak a bagel with a schmear at their desk, but are served mini-muffins on faux silver trays and drink their coffee out of real china cups and saucers. Finally, I thought, this would be me.

To read more:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Indiebound

About the author: Mary Carlomagno spent years in book publishing before taking on the world of self help as a professional organizer where she quickly became a media expert.  She has published three books on the topic, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Program and the Today Show.  She continues to write freelance, speak to corporations and represent blue chip companies through her consulting company called order.  

Find Mary here and here.

Posted in #SaturdayScene, Excerpts, Guest Appearances