22 December 2022

Perrin Lovett: A Christmas Fire To Make The Good Victorious, a Tom Ironsides Tale

*ed. note: For those not in the know, you can read more about the incredible Tom Ironsides here, here & here . As I understand it, Perrin is about to rerelease The Substitute - the first Ironsides novel - w/ a new publisher, and we should see the second installment in the not-too-distant future. 

 ~a Tom Ironsides tale by Perrin Lovett~

~~Christmas 2022~~

Saint Thomas of Aquino College, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, December 22, 2022…

As the low December sun dipped behind the mountains, their afternoon dance complete, the slow-drifting refracted beams of stained glass light faded from the chapel wall. Several of the older congregants and more than a few of the youngsters noted the departure, with at least one mind wishing the ephemeral decorations good evening and goodbye. The tall, commanding speaker, standing in the middle of the steps before the altar, wearing a dark suit, an unusual tie, and a genuinely delighted look, took the shadowy spectacle as the signal to conclude his presentation.

‘And so,’ he said, ‘in summation, it has been, all the news of the outside world notwithstanding, a wonderful year both at the collegiate level and, especially, at our nascent little school. By the way, my earlier remarks, just to be clear, about quote-unquote wisely investing the center funds in something called FTX, that was a joke. I didn’t think enough of you laughed at the time, not in here, and it was difficult to gauge the online mood.

‘Speaking of that, what a testament! There may, in fact, be great things ahead for our concept of internet-assisted homeschooling. A note was passed to me some minutes ago, and it seems we have just over two-hundred families, benefactors, and friends joining us via the video call function. From as far away as the Helvetic Confederation and Slovakia, I might add. I regret to inform those of the digital set that they, unfortunately, will not be able to directly partake of the sandwiches, punch, and cookies which we’ll enjoy momentarily.’ Here, a peal of general laughter erupted.

‘My apologies,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘Perhaps that’s the next grand step in technology. But again and again, thank you all for coming this evening, all of you watching nationwide, worldwide, and everyone within these walls. I’d like to especially thank our tech department friends for making the wider conference possible. And I owe a debt of gratitude to all of my classics students and the other young academicians who stayed several days after finals to help. The younger kids love all of you, they look up to you, and your assistance has been beyond important. Critical, if you will. And if I’ve missed anyone, then I offer a great, all-encompassing thank you!

‘Just before we wrap this show up and commence our Christmas partying, a final word about those unpleasant secular and spiritual matters, the ones that have dogged us particularly hard of late. In an optimistic spirit of defiance, I offer you this inspirational challenge: There is no cure for this evil, but by the giving of greater force to the good hand. The righteous cause must be strengthened with might to resist the wicked, to defend the helpless, to punish all cruelty and unfairness, to uphold the right everywhere, and to enforce justice with unconquerable arms. Oh, that the host of Heaven might be called, arrayed, and sent to mingle in the wars of men, to make the good victorious, to destroy all evil, and to make the will of the King prevail! So wrote Henry van Dyke in his story of the Christmas Angel in 1905. In his young century, and in ours. Fear not! Our side is just too strong; they can’t win. Merry Christmas, everyone!’

The gathering then removed to the adjacent events center for further merry festivities. Tom inched to the back doors of the chapel and greeted everyone again as they disembarked in search of food and drink.

‘What a wonderful message, all of it,’ someone said. ‘I always loved van Dyke, and you did his words great justice.’

‘Thank you. It’s easy in a beautiful setting filled with gracious people.’

‘The virtual crowd enjoyed the show,’ a techie told him. ‘You had them overload the chat box! I emailed you all eight hundred messages for later, just like you asked.’

‘Thank you! Couldn’t have made it work without your help.’

‘You’ve made quite the start in only three years, Colonel,’ a woman said.

‘Time flies when you’re making progress and having fun!’

‘Public speaking might be your thing, sir. You should teach or something,’ one of his classics students said.

‘Yeah, I need to look into that.’

‘I knew you were trouble when we hired you,’ a Regent said. ‘My kinda trouble.’

‘All I’ve ever really been good at.’

‘What did you do to those state DOE people from Raleigh?’ another professor asked.

‘Get with me after the break about that.’

‘I like your tie, Doctor I,’ a little girl from the day school said. Her mother stood behind her, alternately smiling and biting her lower lip, and conspicuously batting her eyes at Tom.

‘It’s daffy just like us,’ he replied while ignoring the maternal flirtation and looking down at the Santa hat-sporting Duck himself.

He entered the hall last, walking and chatting with Oak Moreland. ‘I have to meet this woman, Chief,’ he said in response to some new information. ‘I suppose she’s behind these subtle changes in your ways. Have you noticed?’

‘No,’ Oak said. ‘Well, okay, I do notice her, shall we say, positive influences. I have also noticed a few things about you lately, boss. Are you aware that you, just now and three times, called this place the center? Didn’t I tell you? The Ironsides Center has a ring to it!’

‘Huh? Maybe,’ Tom said. ‘I’m more interested in seeing if a ring pops up in your life. Then you two can get on with the, you know, adding more kids to our programs.’ 

‘One step at a time, man! But, kids— Did you ever think, back in the old days, about your recent reason for being? I could always have seen it coming, but literally seeing it now, meeting her and all, is something different.’

‘Honestly,’ Tom said with light reflection, ‘back then, I didn’t even count on making it to retirement. Now that I’m here, I gotta admit this is the best part of life! Babysitting is the funnest job I’ve ever had, and kind of a reward for the trials of parenting – that first great go-round. Maybe a reward for any of the good work we might have ever done over all those mean years. You’ll find out before too long, one day, my friend.’

‘When will mommy and daddy be back?’ Oak asked.

‘Tomorrow, straight up from Charlotte,’ Tom said. ‘They took Jessica with them, her and her new positive, hopefully-speaking, influence, what’s-his-bubba. Bringing a college shuttle bus full of relatives, in-laws, and out-laws back with them. Thankfully it won’t be quite as many as last Christmas or the overkill year before. Got some folks scattered about this year. Oh, and I’d best remember to top that thing off before we return it. Wash it. Details.’

‘Can Todd drive it okay?’

‘Yeah. I mean, he was man enough to marry Vicky, so a box truck with seats shouldn’t be too bad. Who knows? Maybe she’ll drive. But not me! Cause I got something, somebody a whole lot more important right here!’ The men stopped and looked down at the gala’s smallest and youngest participant.

There, surrounded by college kids and swinging from Carmyn’s arm, was Tom’s pride and joy, his newest, funnest reason for being. She was named after Tom’s late mother, she was almost eighteen months old, and she was possessed of a constant bubbly precociousness. Her big brown eyes gleamed happily up at her grandfather before rapidly drifting over to Oak’s large, smiling face. She started hopping up and down and calling: ‘Bear! Bear!’

‘Hey, baby girl!’ Oak exclaimed as he bent down to her level. ‘Grrrrrr.’

‘You do look like a big, old grizzly,’ Tom said. ‘Especially with the beard.’

While the hulking man happily allowed many a tug on his beard, Carmyn proudly said to Tom, ‘not a peep from Meredith the whole time! She’s the perfect child. I’m not even sure she knows how to cry or fuss.’

‘She also failed to laugh at any of my jokes,’ Tom said with faux ruefulness. ‘Nor did she show any interest in my new Greek rhetorical powers.’

‘Gee, babe, that was all Greek to me too.’

Along with his usual Latin quips and French aphorisms, Tom babbled on in Greek a little more, or tried to, in between visits here and there around the room. He and Carmyn decided, along with an ample contingent, to simply make a dinner of the various finger foods, scrapping their earlier plans to dine in Boone. And so, perhaps an hour and a half passed pleasantly in the company of many good, intelligent, and interesting people. 

15 December 2022

Ellis Millsaps: Just Da

*ed. note: well, we took another extended break. What can I say? "The [fellas] in the point ain't changed." But, we're back! I've got a Covington history article that will hit next week & then Da's got another Cranky English piece lined up for the last week of the year. 2023 is gonna be a big year for TPC. Da's novel will finally be published & we will be getting back to at least weekly (or close to it) posting then. As always, thanks for reading, and enjoy! - MB McCart

 When I come in from the porch and my five-year-old grandson is visiting, I walk back toward the kitchen to see what he and his grandmother are plotting. He runs up to see who's arrived and  invariably says ”Oh, it's just Da.”

 Just Da here reporting on whatever is on my mind at the moment, in this case my previously announced project to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction. There are 89. As of today I've read 55.

( When did football players start wearing their pants as shorts above their knees? This must have been going on for a while but I'm just noticing it.)

 I've had some off ramps from just knocking out the list. Specifically where a winner was part of a series I've read more of the series. First with Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres which is the first of a trilogy spanning a century in the lives of a midwestern family. This would be one of my candidates (the trilogy) for the Great American Novel, as differentiated in my mind from the best American novel, a list which would be led by Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, All the King's Men and others. In my conception, for a novel to qualify as the Great American it needs to cover generations of American life. My choice is Raintree County by Ross Whatley.

(When did it become permissible for football players to push their ball carrier forward? Hasn't that always been against the rules? When did they change this rule? In 2007 Google tells me the NFL changed it and ten years later the NCAA followed suit. It's still illegal in high school. I don't see why they changed the rule anywhere. I’d always assumed it was a basic safety precaution to keep the ball carrier from being squeezed like a capitol policeman between insurrectionists, but evidently the change hasn’t resulted in an increase of injuries.)

Other winners which set me off on a tangent are The Good Earth and Dragon's Teeth. The Good Earth is the first of a trilogy by Pearl S. Buck. It was always on my high school recommended reading list but never appealed to me because it was written by a presbyterian missionary,and I assumed incorrectly, telling of the conversion of Asians to christianity. In fact it is nothing of the sort. There are no significant western characters in the trilogy.

 Miss Buck spent most of her childhood in China. Chinese, she said, was her primary language.  All of the point of view characters in her work are Chinese and speak from that perspective. The story spans several generations of a family dealing with corrupt government, first on the warlord level and eventually leading to the Communists who centralized corruption to a new national style. I learned a lot of Eastern history from reading it. I highly recommend it. Except that it's written by an American in English it might qualify for the Great Chinese Novel.

( I've played or coached baseball most of my post  nine-year-old life and I've never seen a high school or rec ball player foul a ball off his foot. I pitched quite a few innings and there was never time called for a player to hobble around and walk it off. This happens several times a game in MLB. I have no plausible theory to explain this phenomenon.) 

I have a lot to say about the aforementioned DragonsTeeth but I think I've gone on long enough for now. Hasta la vista.

Ellis "Da" Millsaps is a recovering Attorney but has worn many hats over the years: father, bus boy, stand-up comedian, novelist, wiffle ball player, rock'n'roll band manager, and at one time wrote a popular and funny column for The Covington News. A Fannin Co. mountain boy originally, Mr. Millsaps now stays at the mill village of Porterdale by way of 20 years in Mansfield. Usually funny and at times irreverent and subversive, he leans left in his political philosophy but can always be counted on for a pretty darn good write-up. The Chronicles are proud to have him involved...