The Joy of Attending New Schools

Luke Air Force Base
Luke Air Force Base

Attending new schools was one of the great things about growing up as a military brat. I attended the first half of the first grade at Glendale Elementary in Glendale, Arizona. Early in the second semester I transfer to Luke Air Force Base Elementary School on Luke AFB, Glendale, Arizona. I also attend grades two, three and four at Luke Elementary School. I don’t remember my first grade teacher ‘s name.

In grade two my teacher was Mrs. Davis. I remember two things about the second grade. First, my teacher humiliated me. She made me try again pronouncing library until I got it correct. I would pronounce it as “lie-berry”. It drove her crazy and drove me to tears. The second memory was making an O on my report card, not a zero, but the letter O. My mother got excited thinking it was a zero. When I came home with the first report card, we went right out the door and back to school ASAP. The teacher explained it was O for outstanding. She said I made a perfect grade on everything without any mistakes, except not being able to pronounce library. She was a young, first-year teacher.

I had the same teacher in grades three and four. Her name was Mrs. Jensen. She was a grandmotherly woman. In the third grade, we memorized the Star Spangled Banner. We learned how the song was written. In the fourth grade, Mrs. Jensen showed her wisdom. Our physical education coach was involved in driving while intoxicated accident where a person died. His name was Mr. McCrayley. He went to prison. We were all sad. She explained people made mistakes. Mistakes have consequences.

My father went to South Vietnam in 1963 when I started grade five. My teacher was Mrs. Englebrock. I attended Jefferson Avenue Elementary School in Seguin. In November of my fifth grade year, President Kennedy was assassinated. In February, The Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan Show. My teacher was like a guardian angel. She taught me to do book reports. She entered a story I wrote for a school competition. I wrote of how a family deals with a dad deployed to a combat zone. She said It reminded her of when her dad was gone to World War II. My best friend was the girl who sat behind me. Her dad owned the local Goodyear Tire Store.

We moved again for grade six. I was in El Paso, Texas at Ben Milam School. It was at Biggs Air Force Base. Senior Romero was my teacher. It was neat having a man teacher. I got the best citizen award for the school that year. The Kiwanis Club gave the award. Ben Milam Scool is where my love of researching started. That year I did a long, twenty-plus page hand written research paper about the People’s Republic of China. Mary Williams, Shirley Huntzinger, and Robbie Moats (a girl) were my best friends at school. They were in my class. In the neighborhood, John Harris and Raymond Davis were my best friends. I was there for the first semester of the seventh grade.

I moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for the seventh and eighth grade. My dad retired from the United States Air Force while we were there. I learned to shovel snow, go to science camp at M.I.T. and to a writer’s course for gifted kids at Harvard while I was in junior high school.

Yes, attending new schools was one of the great things about growing up as a military brat.

Martian Mondays: The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Seven: And the Moon Be Still as Bright

“And the Moon Be Still as Bright”  was first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1948.

The next chapter opens with the men of the Fourth Expedition gathering firewood against the cold Martian evening. The scientists have found that all the Martians have died of chickenpox (brought by one of the first three expeditions) — analogous to the devastation of Native American populations by smallpox.

The men, except for the archaeologist Spender and Captain Wilder, become more boisterous. Spender loses his temper when one of his crew-mates starts dropping empty wine bottles into a clear blue canal. He knocks him into the canal. When questioned by his captain, Spender replies “We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves…We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things,” referring to Earth. He leaves the rest of the landing party to explore Martian ruins.

Note that, in some editions of the collection, the two stories about Jeff Spender have been combined as one.The two collections are chapters seven and eight.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years. This story is advanced from 2001 to 2032.

The devil was in the fog that night.

stanleyThe devil was in the fog that night. You could feel it with every gust of wind and droplet of moisture against your face. You could hear it as the courthouse clock struck midnight. You could see it in the dim light of the corner lamppost and the blinking traffic signals. You could sense it in the sound of the garbage truck feeding itself with the contents of the dumpster behind the drug store. It was a bad night to be walking rounds. But he had sworn when he set out that nothing could make him not complete his hourly rounds. He needed this job to offset his meager early retirement from when the mill shut down.

As he walked the fog was getting so thick, you could not see your hand in front of your face. The temperature was continuing to drop. In his mustache and beard, the condensation from his breathing was freezing. No other night watchman, he thought, dared to brave walking the rounds. The other two on duty huddled around the coffee pot. Telling lies about what they did in the war, the evils of corporate buyouts and forced retirements, and what they did with certain widow ladies in town to help them not be so lonely occupied their time.

From the distance the whistle sound of the 12:05 train from New Orléans filled the air. The horns of the boats out on the Mississippi River belched their warnings as they fought their way upriver, against the current, pushing their barges northward. Their sounds became clearer as he worked his way from the courthouse square down to the waterfront.

As he turned the corner onto Vicksburg Avenue, he could see two shadowy figures struggling down at the entrance of the Union Mission. Thanks to the backlight of the open door he could tell this was a life or death struggle. Damn, he thought, looks like two drunks trying to kill each other. I better go get the real police. Somebody’s going to get killed. He stopped. He was looking, staring. The devil must have been looking, too.

Suddenly, from the river was a massive explosion. A ball of fire was not only shooting up into the sky, but burning cylinders were being spewed from the barge like a giant July 4th fireworks display. Some were going straight up. Some were going upriver. My God, one went straight into the pilot’s window on the tug completely obliterating the superstructure. And, oh no! One was rocketing straight toward him.

The two men stopped their fighting in front of the Union Mission. They both yelled inside for help and ran up to the corner where the last cylinder impacted.

The smell of burning flesh filled the air. His upper body was at least ten feet from his legs. His intestines were spread over the distance in-between.

“It cut him in two and barbecued him at the same time,” said the first drunk.

“Who, who is he?” asked the second drunk.

The preacher from the mission had run outside and up the sidewalk to the corner during the commotion. “That was the night watchman,” answered the out of breath parson.

Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Book Reports, Essays and Term Papers

Examination Blue Book

My late mother used to say I wanted to be a writer since I was three years old. I’m not sure that’s accurate. However, I cannot ever remembering not wanting to write.

Mom says I told stories even before I could write. I don’t know about that. I remember how excited I was when in the fifth grade at Jefferson Avenue Elementary School in Seguin, Texas. Mrs. Englebrock, which was my teacher, had us read books and then write a story telling what we read. I thought that was the neatest thing. Read the book, write a report about what we read, and if we were one of the lucky ones, we could stand before the class and read our report!

I liked that part as all the kids were looking at me I wanted to make the book sound so interesting every boy and girl would be dying to check it out of our little school’s library. I seemed to do a good job of my report writing. I would always mention something I just knew those girls would like. At the same time, I found something I knew the other fifth-grade boys would enjoy.

I used to take some of those book reports and turn them into plays that I performed with my brother and the neighborhood kids. It was such fun.

When I was in college and graduate school, I use to select professors by the criteria if they gave an essay test using examination blue books or multiple choice tests. I found the multiple guess test as I called them boring. An essay on the other hand allowed me to show what I knew. I enjoyed doing the research or term papers as well as doing book reports. If a professor gave essay tests, required two or three book reports and made you do a term paper, I would sign-up for the class. It was as if I had won the trifecta at the race track!

Mother was correct about one thing; I do like to write.

Martian Mondays: The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Six: The Third Expedition

The Third Expedition was first published as “Mars is Heaven!” in Planet Stories, Fall 1948.

The arrival and demise of the third group of Americans to land on Mars is described by this story. This time the Martians are prepared for the Earthlings. When the crew arrives, they see a typical town of the 1920s filled with the long-lost loved ones of the astronauts.

Captain John Black tells his crew to stay in the rocket. The crew are so happy to see their dead family members that they ignore their captain’s orders and join their supposed family members. The Martians use the memories of the astronauts to lure them into their “old” houses where they are killed in the middle of the night by the Martians themselves. The next morning, sixteen coffins exit sixteen houses and are buried.

The original short story was set in the 1960s and dealt with characters nostalgic for their childhoods in the Midwestern United States in the 1920s. In the Chronicles version, which takes place forty years later but which still relies upon 1920s nostalgia, the story has a brief paragraph about medical treatments that slow the aging process, so that the characters can be traveling to Mars in the 2000s but still remember the 1920s.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years. This story is advanced from 2000 to 2031.

We Can Learn From a Cat

Tonight, March 21, 2015, I had a call from my nearly ninety years old dad. He’s a cat lover and owner of two cats. One’s name is Smokey and the other Sugar. The cats are sixteen years twenty days old according to the vet’s records; dad took Smokey to the vet today. The animal doctor performed blood tests and gave her a couple of shots.

Smokey the cat had done poorly for a few days. Dad was concerned for Smokey’s health. She was his late wife’s cat. About 7:00 PM dad called me. He was crying. Smokey had died. It made me think back to that day twenty-five years ago when I cried when my kitty died. Here is my cat Hallie’s story as I wrote it for my the newspaper column I wrote back in September 1990.

Great big crocodile tears were streaming down my face. The tears wouldn’t stop coming. My sobbing was so loud my sons, Kristopher and Jason, wondered if I would be all right. My wife Miss Benita’s comforting arms had never seen me this way before. She assumed one or both of my parents had been killed from the magnitude of my grief. I was glad my daughter Sara was spending the night at her best friend Amelia’s house.

What had brought about this emotional upheaval in me? What would have me grieving with more intensity than when my grandparents or wife’s brother died?

A car squashed my cat Hallie. Specifically, it crushed her skull. Sadly, my two sons had witnessed the tragedy. They ran crying to get me to make it all better. I couldn’t make it better. While her little body was still warm, my kitty was dead.

Hallie was a beautiful, small Calico Cat. She had been born on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th. She died less than six months later on my wife’s birthday, September 14th.

Why make all the fuss about a cat? I loved my kitty. She loved me. It was a love that demanded nothing from me. A love that would rub up against my pants leg even after I accidentally stepped on her tail. A love that would sit nervously in my lap as we rode to the vet’s to get shots, “get fixed”, and the very day she died, to get stitches out from the above mentioned surgery.

She had a love for me that would wait for me to finish mowing the yard to get petted or have her tummy scratched. Hallie was one of the few that demanded nothing from me. She gave me her love and affection in return for hearing her name, a bowel of dry cat food, or an occasional saucer of milk. If you have ever had a kitty or dog die, you understand.

We can learn from a cat. We too, should love with no strings attached.

NOTE: At the time my kitty was run over on September 14, 1990 I served as Associate Pastor and Day School Headmaster at First Baptist Church, Jasper, Texas. My sons were 13 years old, 10 years old and my daughter was two months shy of her sixth birthday.  At the time I wrote a local newspaper article. The above was my column that week. I received hundreds of sympathy cards with stories of others loosing their pets.

Martian Mondays: The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Five: The Taxpayer

Chapter five, The Taxpayer, first appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

A man insists that he has a right to be let onto the next rocket to Mars, because he is a taxpayer. He insists on being let on the ship so strongly because the Earth will be having a great atomic war soon, and no one wants to be around when it happens. He is not allowed on the ship and eventually gets taken away by the police.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years. This story is advanced from 2000 to 2031.

The World of Null-A by A. E. van Vogt

The World of Null-A

I love reading and writing short stories. A few years ago I came up with the idea of writing a nonfiction article on the five most influential pre-1950 computers in science fiction. In researching that list of potential computers, I read a number of books and short stories. E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” topped off the list. It left me speechless and amazed. I wrote a review about that story last week. You can find it HERE. A second short story on the list was Misfit by Robert A. Heinlein. You can find it HERE. The third computer I found was “The Engine.” The Engine is a fictional device described in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift in 1726. You can find it HERE.

The World of Null-A, sometimes written The World of Ā, is a 1948 science fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt.  Originally published as a three-part serial in Astounding Stories, it incorporates concepts from the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski. The name Ā refers to non-Aristotelian logic.

Gilbert Gosseyn, a man living in an apparent utopia where those with superior understanding and mental control rule the rest of humanity, wants to be tested by the giant Machine that determines such superiority. However, he finds that his memories are false. In his search for his real identity, he discovers that he has extra bodies that are activated when he dies (so that, in a sense, he cannot be killed), that a galactic society of humans exists outside the Solar system, a large interstellar empire wishes to conquer both the Earth and Venus (inhabited by masters of non-Aristotelian logic), and he has extra brain matter that, when properly trained, can allow him to move matter with his mind.

The World of Null-A appeared originally as a 1945 serial in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which was edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Van Vogt revised and shortened the tale for the 1948 novel release by Simon and Schuster. In 1970, van Vogt revised it yet again (though only slightly this time), and added an Author’s Introduction in which he both defended the controversial work, and admitted that the original serial had been flawed.

Book Cover Artist: Leo Manso

Sources: Wikipedia and The World of Null-A.

Library and Library Cards

In my mind, it’s Saturday, September 11, 1964. My family had just moved into base housing on Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas. Dad had my little brother and me got in our beautiful metallic turquoise 1964 Ford Galaxy 500 car. Our destination was the base library. We have set off on a short drive to get my brother and me our first library card.

The librarian was unlike anyone I had ever met or seen. The kids called her the “bun lady.” She wore the stereotypical hair in a bun. She kept her spectacles on a chain, infrequently wearing them. Her work uniform was a long covered up dress. She always had a worried expression. Her right arm had a nervous twitch where her hand frequently jerked toward her mouth and the pointer finger extended across her lips to signify “Shush!” It seemed “shush” was the most common word she spoke.

The “bun lady” gave us a tour of the library. We had the Dewey Decimal System explained. We visited the book stacks with the children’s, science fiction, history and biography books. She showed us the location of the “necessary rooms” as she called them in case we should need to do what all people do, but rarely admitted to doing, especially back in 1964.

I remember dad had us walk back to our house from the library. He made sure we knew the way home and made it safely.

We visited the library several times a week. It was a twenty-minute walk to the library. We always had adventures en route to the library, but not so much on the trip home. We couldn’t wait to get back to the house. At home, we could dip into the exploits between the book’s covers. Mother always had hours of quiet time after we returned with books.

I still remember how hush-hush the libraries were back then. It seemed all speech ended at the door. There were no computers in libraries in the 1960’s. No one was sending text messages or taking pictures on a cell phone. I can still hear the swishing of card catalog drawers being opened and closed, the squeak of the book cart’s wheels announcing the slow but sure restocking of shelves. They were some of my favorite sounds.

I recall all those book spines announcing the titles covered with the plastic covers. I would walk down the aisles looking, gawking. I would dream of my name being there – someday.

Suddenly, there they were. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine. I think I heard Handel’s Messiah’s Hallelujah Chorus when I found these books. I started reading both. I have been a fan of Bradbury and science fiction since that time.

I checked the books out. I still remember the “bun lady’s” pencil. It had a little stamp thingy attached to it instead of an eraser. There was a pocket glued in the front of the book. In it was a card. She took the card out of the pocket. Next, she wrote my name down on that card stamping it with the due date. She filed it away. She then stamped the due date on the slip of paper inside the pocket glued to the front page of the book. I had the books for two weeks. Two adventurous weeks!

At home, I would retire to my bedroom and read for hours. In my mind, I would be it the cupola orchestrating the lights of the town turning off at night. I would experience the rocket winter of traveling from Ohio to Mars.

I journeyed to all those places for free in books. The base library became a favorite destination for me. Libraries are still a place of refuge and solitude for me and hundreds of military brats.

I wrote my first published article in the library at The University of Texas at Arlington in 1974. On a rainy September afternoon in 1981 at Emory University’s library in Atlanta, Georgia I wrote the first draft of my first professional magazine article sale.

While today the Internet may bring information into my home, the library is still the sacred shrine for me and many writers. I was in the Los Angeles Public Library and the UCLA library a few years ago. I could see the Ray Bradbury of the 1940s inserting a quarter for another 30 minutes of typing in the pay typewriter. Those still existed when I was in college and seminary.

Nearly a decade ago I was in the Vicksburg, Mississippi Public Library and learned that Winston Groom (author of Forest Gump) was there researching a book on the Vicksburg Campaign of the Civil War.

Just last week I watched a video by Joanna Penn. She was showing where she writes in the London Public Library. She said this was the very spot where Charles Dickens wrote as well as Agatha Christie.

I still smile when I reflect on that Saturday in September 1964 when I got my first library card. I still have a library card. The library along with a bookstore are my favorite places to escape the world. I believe the library still holds a key role for the writer.

Originally published on March 2, 2015 on Author Culture.

Photo Source:

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By Tammy (Flickr: library card)

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Martian Mondays: The Martian Chronicles – Chapter Four: The Earth Men

Chapter Four – The Earth Men (August 1999/2030) was first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1948. This story tells of the “Second Expedition” to Mars.

The astronauts arrive to find the Martians to be strangely unresponsive to their presence. The one exception to this is a group of Martians in a building who greet them with a parade. Several of the Martians in the building claim to be from Earth or from other planets of the solar system, and the captain slowly realizes that the Martian gift for telepathy allows others to view the hallucinations of the insane, and that they have been placed in an insane asylum.

The Martians they have met all believed that their unusual appearance was a projected hallucination. Because the “hallucinations” are so detailed and the captain refuses to admit he is not from Earth, Mr. Xxx, a psychiatrist, declares him incurable and kills him. When the “imaginary” crew does not disappear as well, Mr. Xxx shoots and kills them.

Finally, as the “imaginary” rocket remains in existence, Mr. Xxx concludes that he too must be crazy and shoots himself. The ship of the Second Expedition is sold as scrap at a junkyard.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years from 1999 to 2030.