Althea And The Coyotes

At the foot of my street there is a small patch of green wilderness. Very small. Probably doesn’t even deserve to be called a wilderness, right? It’s quite tiny. 

But it looks vast and it has that feel. I enjoy this wild space that rounds out my declining road.

There are stately mature pines, tall grass, wildflowers and thick reeds. It only takes me 5 minutes to walk there. It’s on a bluff. An unattractive cement walkway cuts through the edge of it. A fence with gray aluminum bars keep bayfront walkers from tumbling over the edge and becoming enveloped in the reeds.

Sometimes, if I angle my view to block the streetlights and tune out the highway, it seems as though I am looking out into a deep forest.

Coyotes roam there. They hunt. They eat. They sometimes howl. I’ve heard them from my house only 3 blocks away.

My German Shepherd, Althea, slows down when we reach the walkway. Her trot turns into a stroll. She frequently stops. She sticks her nose through the metal bars and smells the air. She stares transfixed. She sniffs at poop that looks just like huge hairballs. She stands still and listens.

I see something like longing in her eyes. A controlled restlessness. She wants to meet the coyotes.

I rarely deny my dog anything. But how can this be arranged? The coyote pair are secretive. Awake and active only in the deep middle of the night when most humans are asleep.

I tell Althea that someday I will let her play with the yotes. But not today. 

Weeks later Althea lets me know that it’s time. Tonight’s the night. It’s cold. A late autumn, almost winter evening. It’s a little blustery. Althea and her coyote friends have decided that a wind which blows their scents in the air will make for a safer night jaunt.

It’s dusk and darkness is coming quickly. I walk Althea to the edge of the bluff. I sense, and she knows, that the wild canines are just behind the closest reeds. They know Althea is joining their pack for the night and are waiting.

My dog sits patiently as I remove her collar and leash. I tell her to enjoy herself. I warn her not to cross the highway. I suspect that the coyotes have their den across this roadway.

I don’t know if Althea will heed this. Maybe not. But I figure that the coyotes have been safely avoiding the highway traffic for years. I trust my dog. 

“Ok!” I say and she dashes off into that unmowed grass. In seconds she is out of my sight and I know her friends have already greeted her. I’ll see her again at dawn.

My alarm goes off way too early for a night owl like myself. 

I’m still in pajamas when I park at the entrance to the walkway. At first light I see my German Shepherd happily loping up the bluff toward me. Althea!

It’s still not quite light and I want to get back into my warm bed for a few more hours of sleep. And of course I want to hear all about Althea’s adventures. I have so many questions.

I am quickly back under my covers. Althea lies on top of my blankets and I bury my head into her neck. Her fur is still cold from the night’s romp and I can smell the wind in her coat.

And now as I fall asleep I want to know all about the bluff coyotes. I take full advantage of that twilight between wakefulness and sleep. It’s one of the best times to tune in and hear animals speak.

Althea sends me pictures, almost like a slideshow. That great spiritual translator turns her communication into the human words that my mind can understand.

I finally get a more intimate glimpse into the life of the coyotes who live a wild existence only four blocks away from my home.

Althea’s “slides” come in quick short images. A joyful greeting, licking, sniffing, circling, tail wagging. Running through weeds. Tracking rabbits. Playing tug of war with a squirrel carcass. Dropping down low to the ground quickly at any hint of a human scent. Splashing in the creek.

Thea had to lighten her plodding trot to match the quieter stride of the coyotes. 

The splashing water play confirms that they did indeed cross the highway. Of course I want to know if their den is somewhere along the creek.

Althea can’t tell me that because “You’re human and not allowed to know.” Subject closed. But other questions are ready to be answered. 

I suppose I want to know if they have names. The female of the pair,if she must be assigned a name, is called Vessel. Interesting. Her mate is unnamed.


I have to ask about the fox I once saw in the Coyote Cove. I’m afraid they may have killed him. Althea sighs and reassures me that they did not. They did, however drive the fox and his family away from the green patch. But not far. I may (hopefully!) see the foxes again someday for they still roam the bayfront. They keep clear of the coyotes but often sneak back to hunt the cove. Thea and the coyotes know when the foxes have been back because, according to them , “They smell terrible!”


It is explained to me that the foxes were eating the coyotes’ food. “But the foxes were there first.” I said, “But they’re not there now.” was the response.

I am told that the coyotes don’t wander far from bluffs. There is ample brush coverage, hiding spaces and abundant prey. It makes me wonder about the time my neighbor saw Vessel galloping down our street early in the morning. An extremely rare sight of the wild canines that secretly exist right under our noses.

I’m told it was a mistake.There are coyotes that den along the railroad tracks a few blocks up my street. Some of Vessel’s adult offspring belong to the “track pack”. She had been visiting them. Playing too long with her grandpups and carelessly ignoring the budding daylight. The caw of a crow alerted her to her potentially fatal mistake.

More crows joined in the calling. An urban coyote in the daytime will be relentlessly chased by corvids. The noise drove even more attention to Vessel who knew she had to hightail it back to her den. Lucky for her the only human to spot her frantic flight to the bluff was my dog loving neighbor.

I learn that Vessel’s extended track family have a different father. Not her current mate.

Her mate now is a somewhat timid male. Healthy and big with a lustrous coat. Good stock. “But way too shy.” says Althea. He doesn’t wander much. He’s a good hunter but not as good as Vessel.


Her first mate disappeared. A somewhat smaller but bolder male. It’s believed he may have wandered up the street to check on his railroad pack. He never returned. Vessel knows he’s dead because he would always come back to her. I wonder if he was one of the dead coyotes I saw while walking the track.

One thing for sure is that he was not caught in a trap. A bayfront business, spooked by seeing coyotes dumpster diving on their surveillance cameras, hired a trapper. 

Vessel knows traps. She was also aware of the traps set for her railroad kids. 

Like all wise coyote mamas, she knows deep in her being the human desire to destroy her kind. It has been encoded into her DNA.

Both traps, the one up my street, and the one on the bayfront were unsuccessful at capturing Vessel and her family. The businesses found that the traps were too expensive to keep active without trapping any animals.

I recall that one of the trap setting bayfront businesses expressed concern that the coyotes would make a meal of their outdoor cat. There are a lot of stray cats in my neighborhood. I wonder if felines are on the coyote list of readily available prey.

Althea tells me that her wild friends have never eaten a cat. For that matter they have actually never even eaten another predator. So no cats. No fox. 

I asked about the mink. Vessel never hunted a mink. “They bite and don’t let go.” Although they did cop to scavenging on a dead one along the walkway one time. But they didn’t kill it. The mink had been recently struck dead on the highway and the yotes availed themselves of an opportunistic fresh meal.

I can see that the coyotes at the end of my street are well nourished which makes me very curious about what they hunt and eat. I put the question to Althea.

What about the deer I see on the bluffs? Surely coyotes would dig into a herd of deer that share their territory?

“Never.” says Althea. “Too big. Too fast.”

“Muskrats?” “Yes.”

“Chipmunks? Squirrels?” “Oh yeah.”

“Rabbits?” “Plenty!”

“Groundhogs?” “Faster than you’d think but tasty and filling.”

“Beaver?” “Never. But not for lack of trying. Adults too big. Babies too quick to swim into the deep middle of the creek.”

“Opossums?” “Sometimes.”

“Raccoons?” “We’re not that stupid.”

“Turkeys? Geese?” “Definitely. And their eggs too.”

“What else then?” “Seagulls. Lots and lots of seagulls. Wild berries. Grasshoppers.”


I have asked many questions. I drift further and further into sleep. 

“When will you go back?” I ask Althea. Althea is falling asleep too so she takes some time to answer. 

“Maybe when the pups come.” Vessel wants Althea and the spring pups to meet. Althea yawns and sighs. “If the pups come. They might not.”

Vessel is aware that her friendship with Althea could put my German Shepherd in peril. “You look too much like us when the air is full of shadows.” Vessel has told her. “And we are always marked for death when the humans see us.”

Althea’s experience of humans is nothing like her wild cousins. But she understands. There is wolf memory in her DNA too. Althea might never romp with the coyotes again.

In the meantime she and I have no plans to stop walking the bluff. She will stop and stare intently. Although I won’t see them, the coyotes will stare back. Stock still and silent while completely obscured by the reeds. Understanding and kinship will pass between the wild and domestic canines.

My German Shepherd and I will wish the coyotes well. Happy hunting, healthy pups and freedom from human interference for as long as possible.

Questions On The Death Of A Sadist

Author’s Note: Every quote, other than those which came from the obituary, is from a different person and printed exactly as written.

I actually thought he had died many years ago. He seemed quite old when he beat me and raised welts on my face, arms and legs. But then I was only five, and all adults appear old when you’re that age. The reality is that he probably wasn’t much older than I am right now.

Someone, one of the many people who contacted me about him, recently sent me his obituary. He had only just passed in October of 2020. Not even a year ago as of this writing. If I had at all known he was still alive I would have called and confronted him. But for reasons that will be explained later in this piece, he abruptly retired from his dental practice and moved far away from Erie, Pennsylvania.

His obituary glowed with beautiful words of praise indicating that he was a beloved man. He had lived an apparently happy life well into his late eighties. 

I had to re-read his death notice. I had to study this old man’s photograph. Was that really him? Was it? He certainly had the glasses. And that huge head of hair! “Trump hair” according to one of the victims who emailed me. Dark , almost black when I was a child. Pure white now. Well? Was it him?

It had to be. The details all lined up perfectly. Pediatric dentist who practiced in Erie, Pennsylvania from the 1960s until the 1980s. Who else could it be?

I read it again. And a fourth time. The praise was effusive. The words described a great man. A wonderful human being. A man of sensitivity and accomplishment.

As I read them I couldn’t help but contrast the description of this man with the words of his former patients. They had been contacting me in great numbers. I wrote a blog piece about my horrendous experience with this childrens’ dentist. I did it for myself. For therapy. I blogged for an audience of one…myself. 

For 6 years the story was all but unnoticed. My blog is not monetized and I rarely share the stories. Entire years went by with absolutely no site traffic. Then someone whose memories haunted them in the same way that mine did…still do, found it. She shared it. Suddenly my obscure little blog was getting tons of views. I got site contacts, Facebook messages and emails. 

They shared their stories of abuse and terror. So many stories just like mine. A lot of the recollections were so much worse and more terrifying  than my memories

I calmed myself down and slowly read the obituary one more time. After every word of praise I stopped and closed my eyes. I compared them with the stories that had been shared with me. I didn’t have to look them up again. They were committed to memory.

“ Compassionate…”

“He punched me in the mouth.”

“I came home with so much blood soaked cotton in my mouth I could barely breathe.”

“A loving father…”

“He was a monster.”

“A horrible sadistic man.”

“…truly a renaissance man…”

“I watched him hold his hand over my brother’s mouth and nose. Terrified is mild.”

“Always yelled and screamed.”

“…an avid and skilled sportsman.”

“He threatened to punch me in the face if I moved.”

“My daughter locked herself in the bathroom she was so frightened of him.”

“A voracious reader.”

“Told me if I cried he would throw me out the window.”

“A banjo player…”

“He hit my daughter when she was four. She walked around with a bruised lump under eye and ended up having surgery when she was five. Plastic surgery. But I believed him when he said he didn’t do anything. Stupid me. She had to be medicated before each dentist appointment after that.”

“An artist…”

“He hurt me. And enjoyed it.”

“He yelled, pulled me by my head up the chair and insisted I keep my eyes open during the procedure.”

“He put his hands around my neck and told me to stop crying.”

“He loved to share fun.”

“I remember clearly him kneeling on my chest to hold me down while I screamed in pain. I was six years old.”

“Hit me and held my head down by pulling my hair.”

“It was important to him to try to help others.”

“He slapped my little brother and locked him in the closet while working on the rest of us.”

“It was only when my father noticed a bruise on my chin, shaped like a thumb, that anyone believed me and I never had to go back.”

“…passionate love of life.”

“He split my lip open pulling them apart and telling me to shut up.”     

“…enthusiastic dedication to everything…”

“He would make you cry then take you by the door to the waiting room and say that you couldn’t see your mother until you stopped crying.”

”He threatened us if we cried.”  

“…put his hands around my neck and told me to stop crying.”

“He told them if they cried he would pull out all their teeth.”

“Remembered with love and affection by all those whose lives he touched over the course of his lifetime”

“Till this day when I drive down Peach St. and look at that professional Building…brings back horrible memories as a child.”

“This man caused my fear of dentists to this very day.” 

“I was 43 when I had to get dentures due to being too scared.”

“I am 47 and still scared to go to the dentist…”   

“The funny thing is I actually became a dental hygienist! I think it’s because I want to make it better for people.”

“OMG! This guy gave me panic attacks that I still have to this very day!”

“I still tense up when I am near his old office on Peach.”    

I myself still tense up when I am near that office building on 16th and Peach. It still stands looking exactly the same as it did over 40 years ago. Sometimes I think of walking in and confronting those demons. 

So many people wrote to me with vivid descriptions of his office. The toys. The colorful clown pictures that lined the walls. The numerous coloring book pages from all his little patients.

 I brought him a coloring book page too. I worked hard on it. Tried my best to keep the crayon within the lines. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted him to gratefully love the picture so he wouldn’t strike me. He gushed over it in the waiting room in front of my mother. I felt relieved because he smiled. 

The picture didn’t work. As usual his smile disappeared the minute the waiting room door closed. He grabbed me by the shoulders and slammed me into the side of his dental chair. He never actually placed me into the chair, just held me against it. 

But I’ve already recorded my experiences with this monster. And now I’ve heard literally hundreds of other peoples’ experiences as well. So here come the questions. I did say this blog post was going to be about questions, didn’t I?

Firstly, Before any other question is “WTF happened here?!” I mean seriously?! Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s this man abused hundreds of very young children. He raised welts, made children cry,  bleed, piss themselves in fear and vomit. 

Where were the parents? Where was the dental association? Erie had a dental association back then. No complaints? 

Parents were not allowed to go into the exam room. He told the mothers never to ask the children about their dental procedures as it “would just make them nervous.” He threatened the children as well. Told them to stop crying before he would let them out of his office. He told me he would hurt my mother if I told her that he hit me.

Still it doesn’t make sense does it? From all the stories I have gathered there were parents who caught on to his abuse. It doesn’t seem like any of them actually complained. Some people have said “Well, it was the 70s. We didn’t do much about it back then.” It took until about 1985 when someone finally did complain and brought about this man’s career ending “retirement.” We’ll get to that in a minute. 

As I’ve stated, Erie does have a dental association. Seems to be an organization in name only nowadays but was very active when this dude was practicing. Problem was he was a stellar member. My current dentist remembers going to lectures and training led by this monster. Perhaps cronyism and his friendships within this group saved him from losing his license.

Did he lose his license? I don’t know. Sometime around 1985 he broke a little boy’s arm by hitting the child with his drill. Maybe even his friends within the Erie Dental Association couldn’t ignore this misstep. The little boy’s mother had the X-Rays to prove it. 

Shortly after that, his patients received a letter announcing his sudden retirement. The children couldn’t believe their good luck. One woman told me she actually sobbed with relief. The monster was gone and they would never have to see him again.

I tried to contact the Erie Dental Association to see if they had any records. I found a brief mention on the Pennsylvania Association website. I found a Facebook page.  Nobody responded. 

Well, I guess I can’t really say that NOBODY responded. Nobody that is actually associated with any local dental organizations replied to me.  There was a furious response by a young woman from Utah. Someone who had not even been born when all the abuse had taken place. 

I can’t place why she had a dog in this fight. Relative? Friend of the family? She advised the Dental Association to get a lawyer. Said I was “delusional”. Astonishingly, she wrote that I had orchestrated a long “campaign of violence” against this man and his family.  She questioned why I waited until the man was dead.

I greatly admire young women who defend others. That she had the confidence to say all this to protect loved ones within her periphery. Good for her but I found her online attack somewhat bizarre considering her complete lack of knowledge about the situation.

Truthfully I am jealous of this young lady. To be confident and outspoken at such a young age is a privilege that some of us don’t get because childhood trauma negates that. Would I have been a more vibrant 20 year old if the very man she was defending hadn’t beat me bloody? If he hadn’t shaken my 5 year old body until my ears rang? If he hadn’t backhanded me and told me to keep my mouth shut about his abuse?

Am I whining? Maybe. There is a school of thought about bucking up after childhood abuse. “It was a long time ago. You’re an adult now.” “Take responsibility.” “Get over it and move on.” “The past is the past.” I get it. There is truth and good advice in all those statements. It ain’t easy though the point is well taken.

I think a lot about all the people who shared their stories. Every single one of them was slapped, shaken, punched and threatened. A lot of them talked about him placing his hands around their necks. Some had their hair pulled. They were all so little, so innocent. It’s sickening what this man did. 

He had a preferred age to abuse. Usually from about 5 to 8 years old. Some indicated that he didn’t beat children who were older than 9 or 10. Was that because those were less formative years? Older children are more difficult to intimidate and less likely to keep quiet about being beaten.

So does any of this really matter anymore? The man is dead and has lived far away from Erie for almost 40 years. From his obit I gathered they were 40 happy years. Why does that anger me?

He led an apparently good life here in Erie. He and his then wife were firmly ensconced in this town’s social scene. They attended charity balls, participated in auxiliaries. Ski club, boat racing at the Yacht Club, Sertoma, art committees, galas, teas, Kahkwa Club. They kept company with Erie’s wealthy and elite. Then left all that behind for New England.

He also seemed to have lived a full and happy life in New England. He kept up with his favorite activities like golfing and skiing well into his old age. Although he divorced and remarried, all his family seemed to have kept close to him. They did say he was a loving father, right?

Was he a loving father? He must have been. Can a sociopath with sadistic personality disorder be a kindhearted parent? Did his wives and children never see even one hint of his cruelty? Did they know why he retired from dentistry and got outta Dodge? Did his first wife, seemingly happy with her place in Erie Society, question this drastic move?

Did he leave his intense desire to terrorize children behind in Erie? Can a sadist just stop their behavior? Did the child with the broken arm almost reveal the secret of his 30 years of abuse?

He must have had enablers and protectors. He must have been charming. He had a large circle of friends. I actually remember his charm. The big smile when he came to the waiting room to escort his little patients back to the exam room. The joking. The kind words. The exclamation of praise over my pathetically colored picture. He was going to hang it up in his office because it was so pretty! How he held my hand as we walked away. It must have looked so sweet to the parents in the waiting room.` 

The sadistic dentist is an oft used trope. Think Little Shop Of Horrors or Marathon Man. But is it possible that it may be a profession that could attract someone with those proclivities? I’m not slagging dentists. My current dentist is a compassionate and gentle man. He has seen me through dental emergencies with such kindness and I am grateful to him. 

I believe I owe this follow -up to all of the victims that had to go through this monster’s “treatment”. All of these people who, like myself, still get nauseous when near that old Professional Building. All those adults, now in their 40s and 50s who still cry with these memories. Who were tiny and impressionable when they got smacked around by the man their parents believed to be a trusted professional. The ogre who had previously smiled at them and took their hand to lead them into his chamber of horrors.

An abused child can feel even smaller than they physically are. Reduced to nothing by an inhuman creature so much bigger and stronger and louder. 

To all of you who had the misfortune of passing through his dental practice I want to tell you that you are not alone. So many of you have shared your stories and I appreciate that. I hear you and I believe you. Maybe there were adults in your life back then who didn’t take you seriously. Perhaps they thought you were lying or exaggerating. I know your truth.

None of this was your fault! You had the great misfortune to pass through the aura of a monster. You are here. You have all survived. Every one of you has come a long way. It wasn’t easy. I am proud of you all and wish you peace. 


Things In Guacamole

“They want me to sing about guacamole!” I whined to Jonny. Jonny sat up at his desk and turned his swiveling chair to face me. He looked incredulous. “What?!” He asked. Jonny was a senior and my direct superior in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts’ work study program. “Yes.” I answered. “Things In Guacamole from Finnegan’s Rainbow.”

Jonny rolled his eyes. “How Are Things In Glocca Morra.” He said “From Finian’s Rainbow.” ”Whatever.” I replied. “I don’t know it but I have to have the music by Wednesday.” “No problem.” said Jonny picking up the phone. “I’ll have someone from the library bring you the tape and the sheet music.”

I was pouting because only a week before Jonny had begged me to participate in the Academy’s first ever visiting instructor musical theater workshop. “Hardly anybody has signed up.” He lamented. “The instructor is Mary Alice! She’s one of the best musical theater coaches in New York!” I shrugged. I had no clue who Mary Alice was nor did I have much interest in Broadway musicals. Needing to “pad the house” so to speak, Jonny insisted that I sign up for the workshop. “If we don’t get enough people she’ll never come back.” he told me.

Jonny brought up the fact that I had been complaining about my vocal production class (the Academy’s required singing course) for weeks. “You hate to sing.” He added. “This workshop will help you.” I declined. How could someone with my singing discomfort be helped by “one of the best musical theater coaches in New York”?

The registration deadline passed and Jonny finally convinced me to sign up for it. He sweetened the pot by waiving the fee and reminding me that every single acting teacher at the Academy consistently told us to get out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves.

I walked into that first workshop cursing Jonny and clutching my sheet music so hard I thought it would rip. It was time to meet Mary Alice. She was a petite middle aged spitfire who really knew her stuff. She was gracious but I could tell she was going to be tough.

“Our accompanist can play anything.” she told us that first day. “He’s brilliant! Been playing a long time!” Accompanist? What accompanist? There did not seem to be anybody at the piano. I looked closer and then I saw him. An ancient man sat stooped over the keys. He looked as if he were about to fall off the bench and drop dead at any second. But Miss Mary Alice was right. He played beautifully with exquisite skill.

When it came my turn Mary Alice asked what I would be singing. I only knew one song. The one I had been working on all semester in vocal production class. “Many A New Day” from Oklahoma. “Well ok then.” said Mary Alice sharply. “Get to it!”

I set my music in front of the ancient accompanist. Maybe he would collapse right then and there thus canceling my musical workshop singing debut. No such luck. He started playing. My throat closed up. The words stopped in my mouth. I lost my breath.

Mary Alice, not unkindly, ordered me to stop. She smiled. I guessed she was going to be sympathetic and allow me to skip the song. There was a pause. The smile remained. Then she said “Now get your shit together and start again.”

Startled, I choked out the song. “Do you know what acting motivation is?” Mary Alice asked me when I finished. “Of COURSE you do!” she answered for me. Mary Alice had a habit of emphatically answering her own questions. “Of COURSE you do!” she repeated. ” Your teachers tell me that you are an excellent actress. So listen…” And with that Mary Alice assigned a scene that preceded the song.
This was a revelation to me. What? You mean musical theater is just like non – musical theater?! Songs occur before and after stuff?! Like monologues? She also added a motivation to the song. Motivation too?! Another revelation. “Now Go!” she ordered. With a flick of her hand she signaled the pianist to begin playing.

I sang and she clasped her hands together delighted. “Wonderful!” she exclaimed. “But I’m taking that song away from you. It’s too generic. ” she sniffed. “Too vanilla. Too mid-range for you.” My heart sank. She couldn’t take away the only Broadway song I know. She thought for a moment then told me the title of a song that I had never heard. “You can hit that high A, right?” “Um…” “Of COURSE you can! You’re a soprano! And one more; ‘How Are Things In Glocca Morra’ from “Finian’s Rainbow’, that’ll be a great song for you. Ok, goodbye. See you next week with those two new songs.”

I was glad to see the antiquated accompanist survived the week and was able to resume his place crouched over the keys for the next workshop. Or maybe he hadn’t moved at all and had been sitting there for the last 7 days. He looked far too frail to get up and walk. In fact I don’t think I ever saw him move from the piano bench.

“Let’s hear Glocca Morra!” Mary Alice commanded. I placed the sheet music down in front of our 100 year old accompanist but he surprised me by not playing right away. He peered at the music for a few seconds then pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket. He started writing on the music! “They left out some notes here.” He explained. “See?” He played the newly added notes. “It’s kind of a trill. Still within your tessitura.” My whatty what what? Should a man his age even be discussing a woman’s tessitura?

I asked him how he knew about the added notes. “I was the rehearsal pianist for the show.” he explained. The show? What show? “Finian’s Rainbow” he said. “When it was on Broadway.” When it was on Broadway?! Oh geez, no pressure there.

Mary Alice was tired of this time wasting. “Start singing!” She ordered. Once again I fearfully coughed up a song. It didn’t help that I was singing it in front of the musician who heard it sung by the original actress. I bet SHE didn’t call it guacamole.

Mary Alice sighed, then spoke. “This is a song about homesickness. Where are you from?” “Erie, Pennsylvania” I answered. “ERIE!” she burst out joyfully. “I’ve been there! That beautiful lake! That magnificent sunset! You must miss it terribly. Am I right?” “Um…” “Of COURSE you do! Now think of the last time you saw Lake Erie.”

I didn’t think that this would be the right time to tell her that my last view of Lake Erie and that magnificent sunset included a bloated dead cow that had washed ashore some days previously.
“Sing about how much you miss that lovely lake.” Mary Alice said. “Sing about how much you miss your home.”

I thought about the lake sans the dead cow. Maybe it was beautiful. Maybe I did kind of miss it. I mean Lake Erie doesn’t always have dead cows along it’s shoreline. (Although more frequently than you’d think unfortunately. But dead cows are a subject for country songs not Broadway tunes) Maybe I really could infuse homesickness into the song and make it work. Acting and singing? Together?

Somehow I managed to marry those two concepts that day in Mary Alice’s workshop. The song worked. Mary Alice was happy. I was happy.
The workshop continued for five more classes. I even miraculously hit that high A. And all these years later I sometimes see a willow tree and the Glocca Morra melody just starts flowing through my head. So I glace around to see if anyone is nearby. And if the coast is clear I start to sing.

Our Feature Presentation


It was an exciting day at Villa Maria Elementary school. We children were lined up to go to the auditorium! Why? Because we were going to see a MOVIE! I was in 7th grade at the Erie, PA Catholic grade school.

We so rarely had the pleasurable treat of watching a movie. Of course it was an austere Catholic school even in the late 70s and early 80s so we rarely had any fun at all really. Only 2 years before Villa Elementary (or “Little Villa” as it was called to distinguish it from the high school of the same name) had been taken over by a new principal. Sister Margaret Frank, a Nurse Ratched type character who did not like to see children enjoying themselves.

Movies in the school auditorium were a rare pleasure indeed. Once a year, the day before Christmas break, the entire school was marched into the auditorium to watch Old Yeller. No movies with happy endings at Villa Elementary! Movies were shown to teach lessons. The lesson gleaned from Old Yeller was presumably that a boy becomes a man only when he is ready, willing and able to shoot the family dog.

Every year I hoped that I had remembered the ending wrongly and Yeller wouldn’t get shot. But every year, BANG! Dog dead. Merry Christmas children! See you next year, haha! Get it?

But that day in 7th grade was nowhere near Christmas break. A movie? In the middle of a school day? Unexpected. A rare treat.

Each class lined up single file and quietly made their to the auditorium for the mystery movie. Silence was always demanded when we walked through Villa Elementary’s dark halls. At least it was back in the early 80s. Villa children were never permitted to speak in lines outside the classroom. The halls echoed and chattering students made the chronically cranky low paid teachers wiggy. Hallway silence must be maintained at all times.

We took our seats in the auditorium. The movie screen was already assembled up on the stage. Sister Margaret Nurse Ratched took to the podium. Always stage right for some reason. Never center.

“We have a very important movie to show you today.” She announced solemnly.

I was hoping it would be a sequel to the last movie we had watched there. “Old Yeller 2, Dog Survives!” No such luck.

“This movie is about something very bad.” Sister Margaret told us. “Something that is happening right now! We’re going to show you a film about abortion.”

Even in 7th grade I hadn’t heard very much about abortion. I wasn’t quite sure what to think.

Old Maggie explained to us that yes, people were indeed killing babies. They were murdering babies right now!

So the entire school …ok to be fair, I’m not really sure it was every student. Would they really make first and second graders watch an abortion movie? I only remember that every seat seemed to be filled. It seemed to me that the complete student body was in attendance.

And so without further adieu, Our Feature Presentation! This time, unlike the yearly Old Yeller screenings, there was no French kid chasing a red balloon featurette to open the show. They launched right into it.

A Catholic abortion propaganda film. Circa 19 seventy – something. Only problem was that my 7th grade self did not yet have an effective bullshit detector. I could not recognize obvious and ridiculous propaganda.

I was horrified. I took it all in with disgust. Those uncaring pregnant women that were killing their babies in multitudes. The clinics on every corner. The glaring , evil doctors who operated in foreboding dark rooms. But most of all the babies thrown into wastebaskets. Bloody arms , legs and heads thrown right into the garbage without a second thought.

I was appalled. According to this, ahem, “documentary”, thousands of chopped up babies were tossed into the trash on an almost daily basis. The movie ended with the baby in the trashcan money shot. Eerie minor key music and lights up!

Sister resumed her place at the stage right podium. She announced that we would all be headed back to our classrooms to learn and practice the new Pledge of Allegiance. WTF?!

What on God’s green baby killing earth did THAT have to do with what had just transpired?

Although I was astonished I had to remain expressionless. Sister Margaret had only recently called me into her office to tell me that she kept a special eye on me during assemblies. “You are always the one smirking, making faces and rolling your eyes at what I say.” She angrily told me. “And it disgusts me!”

Well, yeah. She had me there. I did find her pretty disgusting.

But, dammit, I did not want to remain silent after watching that film. As much as Maggie wanted to squelch my expression I wanted to talk about it! I had questions. But no talking allowed. No questions either. We made our silent procession back to the classrooms.

No time for questions anyway. Once we returned to our classrooms we had to practice the new Pledge of Allegiance. We had to be ready to recite it to the flag the very next morning.

Mrs. Evans, our 7th grade homeroom teacher, had obviously already been schooled with the new Pledge. Which was basically just the old Pledge with a very important addition.

After “and justice for all” we had to tack on “the born and the unborn”.

Well of course we did. The unborn needed liberty and justice too, right? What with them being yanked out of the womb, hacked to pieces and thrown into the garbage and all.

Some of my 7th grade colleagues had questions. But it was pretty obvious that Mrs. Evans had been ordered not to discuss what we had all just seen in the auditorium.

For anyone who has had the misfortune to attend Catholic school, you know that there is no small amount of holy horseshit thrown at you from every direction. Probably in the hopes that at least some of it will stick and stink up your psyche.

Quite a bit later in the school year we had just recited the Pledge as usual. Mrs. Evans interrupted us just before we could attach our new “born and unborn” addendum. “You guys don’t have to say that anymore.” she informed us. Someone started to ask “But why…”

“You don’t have to say that anymore.” she repeated more curtly. Subject closed.

What happened? Why not? Were we not praying for the born and unborn anymore? How was this daily baby slaughter going to be stopped without children’s prayers? Wait, is the Pledge of Allegiance even a prayer anyway?

For two more years my imaginative mind held fast to the images on that screen. Catholic propaganda success! It’s quite simple really. Take a young, impressionable mind. Shock them with bloody barbaric images overlapped by a terrifying narrative. Tell them that Jesus doesn’t approve. Forbid questions and discussion.

Now that I look back I believe that Old Yeller was a better actor than the “mothers” and “doctors” in that horrible film. Is this film still around? Was every Catholic grade school required to screen this cinematic piece of crap?

Sometimes when I relay my parochial school experiences to friends who had the great good fortune to have a public school education they look at me like I’m from Mars. “You had to clean the school after class?” ‘You had to go to mass?” “Wear uniforms?” “Watch a movie with bloody baby parts?” Yep. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I believe that film is no longer shown. I’ll never know why the Bishop and Sister Margaret decided to shock children that particular school year. And why was the “born and the unborn” removed from the pledge almost as quickly as it was added?

So many questions. If only we had been allowed to ask them.

Fred Field, You Son Of A Bitch!

FredField 001

What is your grandmother’s name?” the first grade teacher asked my mother. “Mary Field” was the quick response. ”And what is your grandpa’s name?” My 6-year-old mom was ready with an even speedier answer. “My grandpa’s name is Fred Field, You Son of a Bitch!”

As my mom much later explained it, “Well, that was how Grandma Mary always referred to him. I thought it was his full name.”

My mom fondly remembers her Grandpa Fred as a quiet and very kind man. “Grandma was always yelling at him, though,” she told me. My mom’s older brother Paul concurred. “Yeah,” he said “Grandma Mary was what you’d call a fishwife. She called him every name in the book.”

Both siblings agreed that they’d learned the majority of their cusswords from Grandma Mary’s lively discourses with her husband Fred. “He never talked much, though,” my uncle Paul said. “But what do you expect? How could they get along? She was Irish and he was English.”

I myself did not know that my great-grandfather was English until I was in 6th grade. It was a happy surprise. By 6th grade I had become a rabid Anglophile. I watched British TV shows. I lost myself in picture books of London and the English countryside. I wistfully told my mom that I wished I was English. “How cool would that be?” I asked.

“You are,” my mom informed me. “A little bit anyway.” This was news to me. She explained about her English grandfather, Fred Field. At that point, I had not yet learned that he was a possible son of a bitch.

I was ecstatic. So somewhere in the mix of Poles, Ukrainians, Rusyns and Ashkenazis there was an Englishman?! In the middle of all those unpronounceable, practically vowel- less, “Can you spell that for me again?” names there was a FIELD?!

I asked many questions about my English great-grandfather but my mom had very few answers. He liked to hunt. He played the violin. He was quiet. Sat in a chair and stared out the window a lot. He seemed sad. Although Great Grandma Mary swore at him quite frequently, Fred Field never raised his voice.

Then my mom remembered something funny. “He had a brother named Chester that used to visit sometimes. Haha. Get it? Chester Field! Like the cigarettes.”

For several years now, I have been wanting to find out more about Fred Field (YSOAB) What was he like? Did he actually deserve the sharp-tongued assaults that Great Grandma Mary constantly lobbed at him? Where in England did the Field family originate? Did I possibly have ancestors who came to America before the 1900s?

I found his 1953 obituary in the Erie, PA newspaper archives. Nothing of interest there. Nothing that I didn’t already know. I looked up his gravestone on a site called Findagrave. Although he is buried locally, I am not one to visit cemeteries. A picture of his and Mary’s shared grave appeared when I clicked on his name. His obituary was also on the site. But not from the Erie Daily Times. Fred’s death notice was also printed in his hometown newspaper, the McKean County Democrat. I excitedly scanned down the new obit. No brother named Chester. I read the notice again more slowly. It was puzzling. I called my mom and asked her how many children Fred Field had. “Only two girls,” my mom answered. “Just my mother and my aunt. ”  I had another question. “What year was Grandma Goldie born?” “My mother was born in 1916,” my mom replied. “Why do you ask?”

I took a breath and said, “Fred Field, you son of a bitch.” According to Fred’s hometown obituary, he had sired NINE children. There was, unbeknownst to my mom and uncle, a first wife. Eliza Field was married to Fred for 22 years and bore him 7 children. The obit stated that Fred and Eliza were divorced in 1917. A year after my grandmother was born.

Both my uncle and mother were astonished to find out that Chester was Fred’s son and not his brother. But who was Chester’s mom Eliza? I clicked on her name and read her death notice. She was Canadian. “Oh yeah, ” my mom remembered. “He was a lumberjack in Canada when he was young.”

I initially thought that Fred must have brought his new wife back from Canada but later learned that Miss Eliza Reid and her family had already been living in Smethport for a few years. Eliza’s father owned a sawmill. I’m guessing that Fred’s lumberjack experience got him a job at the Reid Mill.

I’m also making an educated guess that a dalliance with his boss’s daughter sometime in the lusty month of May prompted Fred and Eliza’s wedding on July 4th of 1895. Six months after their summer wedding, Chester appeared on the scene.

It had to be freezing that December day that Chester was born. Smethport, PA is a bitterly cold town in NW Pennsylvania. Even today Smethport often breaks low temperature records. It is still wild and rural with harsh winters.

Of course Canadian Eliza was no stranger to the cold. But she had to have been scared.  She was a new bride giving birth to her first child among her husband’s family. There must have been a fire that was kept burning.

I wonder if Fred’s mother Nancy attended the birth? Eliza would have needed strong women around her. Was her mother-in-law present when grandson Chester came into the world? Mother Nancy Field had given birth to her 7th and last child, Claude, only 3 years earlier. Her youngest son and first grandson would be playmates.

Eliza became a farm wife. Two years after Chester, she gave birth to her and Fred’s second son Carlyle Archibald Field. 1898 saw the birth of their first daughter Bertha. I believe that Fred must have been thrilled with his first daughter. My mom always said how he adored his daughters and granddaughters. The birth of his first little girl had to have been a special day. The next 7 years gave Bertha four little sisters.

I can only guess that Fred felt the extreme pressure of supporting a wife and 7 little ones with the meager earnings of his portion of the Field family farm. Sometime around 1907 Fred packed up the entire family and ditched farm life for city livin’ in Rochester, NY. Fred and Eliza’s youngest daughter Martha was born in New York in 1908. Martha was their only baby not brought into existence on the family farm.

Not many clues exist about their life in Rochester from 1908 until 1910. It seems that they were all living together at the time of the 1910 census. But by the 1915 New York state census, one of their children was missing from the lineup. Little Bernice, Fred’s middle daughter who was 5 years old and living with her family in 1910 was not listed along with her sisters and brothers.
Where did Bernice go? There is no mention of Bernice beyond the child’s listing in the 1910 census. In fact she is never referred to again. Neither Fred nor Eliza’s obituaries mention their middle daughter. Both obits indicate that there were 7 children. Neither lists Bernice.

A genealogy site I found briefly states that Fred and Eliza gave Bernice away to a couple who adopted the child. How does that happen? How do parents just give one of their daughters away? What about the 4 other daughters? Did they miss their sister? What happened to Bernice? I couldn’t find out any more information.

Wouldn’t that be hard for a little girl? To leave her parents and siblings to go live with another family? It doesn’t look like anybody had contact with Bernice ever again. Was she taken away to a different city? Was her name changed? Did her sisters ever see her again? How do you erase a child from your life?

Information about the Field family and their life in Rochester is practically non-existent. In October of 1914, Carlyle Field, only 17 years old, was shot in the leg. He must have recovered because he and older brother Chester served in WW1. Chester came back to Rochester after his service but Carlyle stayed on in the marines for a few more years.

In 1917, Fred and Eliza’s children had probably forgotten much about their previous Pennsylvania farm life. They had been at least 10 years off the Pennsylvania farm. Bertha was 19, Ruby, 17, Marguerite was 14 and Martha was 10. That year got off to a horrible and tragic start.

In March of 1917 Bertha Field was putting newspapers into the basement furnace when a backdraft caught her dress on fire. She desperately tried to escape by breaking out a basement window and screaming for help. A neighbor rushed over but a frantic Bertha had made her way up the basement stairs and collapsed at the top. Only Chester was home asleep upstairs. By the time Chester was awakened by the commotion, his sister had already burned to death.

As patriarch, I guess Fred would have to be strong for his wife and remaining children. Bertha’s little sisters had to be inconsolable. Chester, being the only family member to witness the horrific event must have been deeply affected. And Eliza…Eliza, the mother who in the space of a very few minutes lost her first daughter, could not have been anything other than completely grief-stricken.

Only problem with that scenario is that Fred wasn’t there. As in he was not even in Rochester, NY anymore. He was in Erie, PA with his mistress, Mary Clancy, and their 5- month-old baby girl, Goldie Jean. Goldie was my grandmother and Fred’s 6th daughter.

I don’t know how Fred received the news of his eldest daughter’s death. Did he get a telegram? Did Chester perhaps make the long drive to inform his father of the awful news? Did Fred attend the funeral? I can’t believe that he would avoid his own daughter’s memorial service. But tensions must have been high. It hadn’t even been a year since Frederick Albert Field fled Rochester with his pregnant mistress. How did he greet his children upon seeing them again for the first time in several months? Little Martha was only 10. Did she miss her dad? Did she think he had come back to stay and comfort his children through this tremendous loss?

How did he greet his wife upon seeing her again? Did they even speak? Did he have any words of condolence for the mother of his dead daughter? Could she even look at him?

Fred didn’t stay. He had a mistress, baby daughter and new job back in Erie, PA. He became a maintenance man for a large estate and kept that job until his retirement 35 years later.

Fred’s wife and children remained in Rochester to grieve their loss without him. Eliza lost her daughter to a fire and her husband to a mistress all in the same terrible year. An entry in the Rochester newspaper noted that Mrs. Eliza Field and family wished to thank the community for the support and comfort during their recent bereavement. Fred was not mentioned.

And it was a terrible year. As 1917 started drawing to a close, tragedy was not done with Fred Field. Fred’s youngest brother Claude was walking home from a night out at a local bar when he was shot in the head, robbed and dragged into a nearby barn. It was Fred’s father, Joseph, who found the boy.

The murderer was quickly found and imprisoned in the Smethport jail. Fred and family had another funeral to attend. Claude Field was a toddler when Fred’s first son Chester was born, so I have to believe that Fred’s children made the trip from Rochester to Smethport. They had all spent their first years together on the family farm. An uncle that was so close in age had to also have been a childhood playmate.

It was reported that Claude Field was well thought of in the community. His father Joseph could not even testify at the trial for becoming too overcome with sobbing grief to even speak. I recently visited the Smethport cemetery where most of the Field family is buried. It is small and forgotten. Not even maintained anymore except for a yearly mowing and weeding by the local Boy Scout troop. Most of the stones are barely even readable but Claude’s stood out. It was bigger and obviously much more expensive than the ones belonging to his parents, aunts, uncles and siblings. I’m guessing that the town came together to buy the headstone for Claude’s family.

Eliza and the children continued to live in Rochester. In 1920 Eliza was still in New York but not for long. I would love to know how this happened but, by 1921, Eliza had returned to her adopted town of Smethport. She came back to the area where Fred had married her, 19 and pregnant, to become a young farm wife and mother. I wonder if it made her nostalgic. Places can have that effect. As the seasons changed did she remember her children’s births? Was she reminiscent about those early days on the Field family farm?

I can’t know if nostalgia was behind her move back to Pennsylvania because she had another reason to settle and live out the rest of her life there. She married Fred’s cousin! Certainly she must have met Fred’s first cousin Clarence Cadwallader Hutchins at Field family gatherings. Clarence was a widower with two daughters. I hope Eliza had a happy second marriage. They remained together until his death in 1948. 

I recently found out that Fred and Eliza’s divorce was not final until 1921! Fred and my great grandmother Mary had already been living together in Erie for 6 years. I don’t know if Eliza refused him the divorce until she was ready to re-marry. Certainly couldn’t blame her if she did. Although great grandma Mary called herself Mary Field I can find no record of her marriage to Fred anywhere.

Back in Rochester, Fred’s second son Carlyle became a hero in 1924 when he stopped two runaway horses from trampling a group of children. Both his legs were broken in the process. He was honored by his fellow Marines for this even as he recovered from his injuries. I will never know if Fred heard of this, was proud or even visited his injured son.

Almost a year later Carlyle died of meningitis leaving behind a wife and new baby girl. Fred lost another child but, of course, I have no way of knowing if he attended the funeral. Carlyle was laid to rest by his fellow Marines in a military service. There must not have been much help for military wives in those days because Carlyle’s wife and baby went to live with a wealthy family. Young Mrs. Field had taken a job as a live-in housekeeper. I don’t know if Fred ever saw the little girl.

In 1927 Fred’s brother Orlo died of septicemia almost a year after the poor man had broken his leg in an automobile accident. The leg never healed and the infection eventually killed him. 1928: Fred’s brother Burr was overcome by gas in a Utah mine and died shortly after being carried out of the mineshaft. I don’t know how Burr Field went from Smethport to Utah but it does appear that he was quite prosperous.

Other than the death of his mother in 1933 and his father in 1936, it seemed that the rest of Fred’s life in Erie was relatively uneventful. He and Mary Clancy Field lived in a small apartment on 4th and State Street. The apartment was provided by the estate for which Fred worked.

Both my mom and uncle tell me that their Grandpa Fred was a quiet man. “Well he couldn’t get a word in edgewise,” said my uncle,“what with Grandma always yelling at him.” My mom remembers that her grandfather was almost always sitting in his favorite chair staring out the window lost in thought.

Was he remembering Bertha? The first little girl to be born to him and Eliza? Was he thinking about Claude? Did he ever zone out while Mary was yelling at him and remember Eliza, the young Canadian woman who surely must have been smitten by the tall American lumberjack? Was he thinking about the daughters he left behind in Rochester? My mom only remembers visits from Chester. Was he estranged from his other children?

But Fred wasn’t always melancholy. Sometimes he called square dances as he played the fiddle. He enjoyed hunting and often returned to the wilds of Smethport to shoot game. It was always a great show when Fred came back from these trips. City-bred Mary Clancy Field never ceased to be thoroughly disgusted by the dead animals Fred brought home for her to cook.

My uncle and his cousins always amusedly listened through the keyhole to their grandma Mary’s post-hunting tirades. Fred expected his wife to cook his fresh kills and Mary angrily told Fred Field (you son of a bitch!) to get the dead creatures off her kitchen table. It’s almost certain that all the other women in Fred’s family – his mother, sister and heck, probably Eliza – had no problem with (and were probably very adept at) dressing and cooking any animal that their husbands brought through the door.

By the mid-1950s Fred finally had enough of his harpy second wife and took another mistress. He began courting a fellow septuagenarian. “A nice old widow lady,” said my uncle. Fred moved out of the little State Street apartment and into the widow lady’s home where he remained for 2 years until his death.

Mary Clancy Field, of course, did not take Fred’s abandonment graciously. (Ironic, right?) “I’ll piss on his grave!”, she declared to anyone who would listen. She lived two more years after he did so she may very well have taken the opportunity to do that. Nevertheless, they are buried together.

They are very intriguing, these stories that happened to the ancestors that came before me. I am endlessly curious about these real people, their real emotions, stories, relationships. I hope they all found some happiness in the midst of the tragedies and complications that made up their lives.
RIP Fred Field, You Son of a Bitch.





This beautiful photograph was taken by Darrell Tolbert, a talented photographer and a great friend to Maxine. See more of his work at

Her name was Maxine. She was an Eastern coyote living in the city of Erie, PA. Specifically she made her home in the Erie Cemetery, a 75 acre resting place right in the middle of the city.
They (whoever the ubiquitous “they” may be) say that you should never name wild animals. Why do they say that? Various reasons. it anthropomorphises them. Turns them into pets.
Humanising a wild animal is wrong, correct? Once we start ascribing feelings and emotions to critters (especially nuisance critters like coyotes) we make it more difficult to kill them.
A few years back I called Clarke Kuebler, the general manager of the Erie Cemetery. The news of Maxine taking up residence in the city cemetery had just broken. Nobody seemed to know quite what to do. There was talk of hiring the local nuisance trapper to set some traps . This concerned me because I knew that animals trapped within the city limits have to be euthanized. Seems it’s the law here in PA.
Before I go any further I honestly don’t know if Maxine met her death at the hands of our local nuisance trapper. It’s absolutely conjecture. But conjecture based on probability. You know what else? I’m not really sure the trapper, if indeed he was the guy that ultimately brought about Maxine’s demise, is even the bad guy in this whole story. Seriously. I hate what he does but I’ve met him. Had conversations with him. He is respectful towards animals. I gave one of his business cards to friend of mine who had a terminally ill cat. A few days later the trapper euthanized the cat with empathy, kindness and compassion.
So truly I am not villainizing the trapper. He may very well have been the one that had to be called to tie up the loose ends in all this. To end the work that all the actual villains put into motion. I don’t know.
So where was I? Oh yes, the day I found out that a coyote was roaming the Erie Cemetery. One of my favorite places to walk. It was reported that traps had been set. I called Clarke Kuebler. I asked him if he was sick of fielding calls about the coyote. He was amiable and said no. He was patient. In our brief conversation I tried (and still try) to see where he was coming from. Certainly he felt pressured to keep cemetery visitors safe. “So many of them are elderly.” he told me. “And people who bring their children.”
I guess he felt he would be blamed if the cemetery dingo suddenly went on a baby eating spree. So he called the trapper. I am not sure what happened with that first trapping attempt. Maxine remained in the cemetery for about 6 more years so either she eluded the trapper or Clarke called the whole thing off.
Shortly after that phone call I saw her for the first time. I was walking in the cemetery when I saw a rabbit dart out from behind a gravestone. In that very second I knew she would be right behind. And she was. I was taken aback at her beauty. Her gracefulness. How very much she looked like a wolf. I held my breath without realizing it. Unfortunately she had flushed out the rabbit only to have it quickly taken away from her by a red tailed hawk who swept down and grabbed her prey. She seemed to take it in good stride and trotted off and out of sight. She wasn’t the only predator who lived there.
A Facebook group was formed. Many people wanted to protect her. I joined this group to see the amazing photographs and commiserate with others who loved her as much as I did. It was an active forum with members sharing stories, sightings, experiences and lots of beautiful pictures.
As nice as these stories were I was already getting a little concerned about the coyote’s safety. It seemed that Maxine was pretty acclimated to humans. Well of course the eastern coyote is an animal that lives its life in close proximity to people. They are urbanized. They also average about 10% domestic dog DNA which leads some researchers to believe they are more easily accustomed to human presence.
The years went by and the group remained an enjoyable way for me stay up to date on Maxine. Then in early Spring of 2017 someone, reportedly “a lady with a pitbull”, said that Maxine followed her and tried to attack her dog. “No way!” said several of the more active members of the Facebook group.
They said that Maxine had never once in 7 years been aggressive. Indeed so many people would look up from tending their loved ones graves to see Maxine quietly watching them. Serene and unconcerned. Many called her “the guardian of the dead”.
Reports of aggression continued. “There’s a male now.” said some members of the forum. I remembered that a few members had mentioned seeing the male a year before in May of 2016.
This caused some consternation within the group. Some swore that they saw the male with Maxine. “He’s bigger.” they said. “He’s darker. He doesn’t live in the cemetery with her. He comes and goes.”
“Absolutely not!” said one of the more vocal members, a man who walked his dog in the cemetery daily and almost always saw Maxine. “There is no male!” he adamantly declared. Other regular visitors agreed. No male, just Maxine.
And still the aggression reports continued. Some said it was because Maxine had babies. Group members to this day never saw Maxine’s alleged pups. None of the regular members believed that Maxine had ever been pregnant. Those who watched and photographed her on an almost daily basis had no reason to believe that she had bred with the mysterious seldom seen male.
But Clarke Kuebler said otherwise. According to him, cemetery workers had seen the babies. By this time in our narrative the previously affable Mr. Kuebler was becoming rather testy about the whole coyote issue. Emotions were also running high within the Facebook group.
All of us in the group wanted to rally to her defense. But I just felt sick. I knew in my heart that they were never going to let Maxine continue her life as a mother.
Various members of our group contacted the cemetery. Some contacted wolf sanctuaries, the Erie Zoo, the local animal shelters and every wildlife rehabber in Erie county and the counties beyond. I called the local office of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. People like myself have to be very careful when dealing with Northwestern Pennsylvania Game Commission employees. They are touchy when they believe they could possibly be dealing with a tree hugging PETA weirdo.
The gentleman who answered the phone was evasive. I said “You’re going to trap and kill the coyote in the Erie Cemetery, aren’t you?” More evasion. “You have trucks there right now.” I told him. “I just drove by.” Even more evasion. He eventually confirmed the trucks. Well, duh, I had just seen them 20 minutes earlier. He also confirmed the Game Commission’s awareness of the “problem”. I pushed a little harder. He said maybe he could have a supervisor call me. I declined, telling him I already knew everything I needed to know. I knew exactly how they were going to solve the problem. My heart sank and the sick feeling returned.
Meanwhile Maxine’s Facebook group redoubled their efforts. Some became concerned that Maxine was becoming too used to people because she was being fed. At last our group and Clarke Kuebler agreed on something. He was quoted stating his concern that visitors were feeding the coyote. I had hoped that wasn’t true but unfortunately for poor Maxine, it was.
Around this time many group members started circling their wagons around Maxine. Many were going to the cemetery more often to try to keep an eye on her. One member confronted a woman feeding lunchmeat to Maxine. It seemed that Maxine knew the woman. The member photographed the feeder and shared her picture with the group.
One of the more ardent members of our group plastered the woman’s photograph on as many local Facebook pages as possible. Within hours the woman, a nurse, was recognized, ratted out and publicly shamed. To her credit she owned up to her careless idiocy and apologized. But she had already driven quite a few nails into Maxine’s coffin.
By June of 2017 I had hoped that the Maxine baby rumors would be either quashed or confirmed. Eastern coyote pups typically start to emerge from their dens around mid June. Maxine’s babies never emerged.
By now Clarke had pretty much stopped responding to any queries about Maxine. He made a few comments to the local news outlets, some of whom had taken a mild interest in Maxine’s imminent removal. He spouted much the same stuff he had said 6 years earlier. “Blah blah safety…blah blah working with a trapper. “
I’m conjecturing again but maybe he felt guilty. Some people have told me that the cemetery workers were actually very fond of Maxine and quite sad about the whole situation. If my timeline (and some of the news reports that came out in July) is correct the babies were taken from the den about mid June. Did Mr. Kuebler feel badly about that? Did he know how distressed new mother Maxine would be after returning to her den to find all 3 of her babies gone?
About a month later, in July, all the coyotes, supposedly 5 in total were gone from the cemetery. When it was all over Clarke stepped out of his silence to offer his brief and final words on the subject. Among the statements he offered was the ludicrous claim that he had “no idea what the trapper did with them.” Really Clarke? I believe everything he said except for that one line of bullshit.
I know Maxine is dead. I knew her death was impending a year before it occurred. Am I certain that she and her family ended their lives in a carbon monoxide chamber? No. Just making an educated guess here. If the local nuisance trapper is in fact the guy responsible for the coyotes’ removal from the cemetery, then that is very likely how her death went down. He himself told me that’s how he kills the animals that he traps. Once again we are at the mercy of Pennsylvania state law. All rabies vectors trapped within the city must be killed. The law does not permit release and relocation.
Nevertheless many Erieites were convinced that she and her family were now living elsewhere in peace and freedom. Some still swear to that fact. A lot of people confused the word “removed” with “relocated”.
Wishful thinking on the part of those who do not know the ways of Northwest Pennsylvania’s strong hunting culture. Combine that with America’s pure hatred of coyotes and we really are not looking at a happy ending for Maxine.
If you are not local to Erie then you must know by now that Erie is in Pennsylvania’s northwest. Have you heard James Carville’s quote about Pennsylvania? “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between.” That puts Erie right there in Alabama territory. The first day of hunting season is a holiday here. No kidding. A day off from school and work.
Hunters here hate coyotes. Well I suppose hate is not the right word. Coyotes are detested all across America. The thousands of hunters in Erie and Erie county are obligated to dislike coyotes. Any local hunter will tell you how awful “them yotes” are. All the disgusting and horrible things these wild dogs do. They love to say how coyotes kill multitudes of baby deer. I guess they don’t like the competition.
There is no closed season on coyotes here. That means you can shoot and trap as many as you want whenever you want. Most of Pennsylvania’s huntable wildlife have seasons that come and go but not coyotes. Nothing gets a hunter’s rocks off more than a critter that can be killed year round.
If you want to expand the picture further beyond Erie, then it is fair to say that Americans despise coyotes. We kill about 500,000 of them per year. The minute that white colonists landed here in the states they decided the coyote had to go. Had to be decimated and wiped out forever. Between 1947 and 1956 Americans exterminated 6.5 million coyotes. All with the U.S. government’s help, support, encouragement and payoffs.
I knew all this before I’d ever heard of Maxine. Truthfully I never thought she would have seven full years of freedom living in the cemetery. Maybe Clarke Kuebler and crew deserve some thanks for allowing her those undisturbed 7 years. Maybe they were fond of her too. Perhaps they made a tough decision with heavy hearts and not callous indifference.
I miss her so much. I miss looking into those wise eyes. Now when I try to remember that beautiful soulful expression I see it morphing into one of terror. The fear she must have felt when that metal door slammed shut ending her freedom forever. Terror as she was loaded into the truck that eventually brought her to the carbon monoxide chamber. Now I see her eyes closing as she fights for breath.
There are times when I feel profoundly guilty for the cruel havoc that my species has wreaked upon animals and this is one of them. I believe Maxine deserves an apology.
I am sorry, Maxine. On behalf of my species I am sorry that you were labeled a nuisance. I’m sorry for the many years we have spent trying to decimate your species. I’m sorry we humans decided that you invaded “our” world when in fact your kind were here first. I’m sorry that the actions you took to protect your babies were called aggressive. I’m sorry that we determined you would not be permitted to live out your natural life. I’m sorry that you, your mate and babies had to die. Sorry we could not allow you to be free in our human world. Yes, my species sucks. Rest in peace, beautiful soul.


Darrell Tolbert’s Photography Facebook page,

There is a 2019 calendar available with beautiful images of Maxine.

The local Erie, PA satirical news site did a story about the cemetery coyotes,

Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Research,

If you would like to make a charitable donation to honor Maxine’s memory, this is a good place,

Overheard In A Chinese Restaurant (Or The Night I Should Have Learned To Stop Eavesdropping)


I wanted Chinese food for my 16th birthday. Back in the day Erie, PA had some decent Chinese restaurants so my wish was granted. My parents and brother joined me for a Chinese birthday dinner. The food was delicious but the conversation was soooo BORING.
As the tables in this particular restaurant were in close proximity to each other I decided to look around and see if there were more interesting conversations going on at any of the adjacent tables. Dinner and a show for my sweet (and sour) 16. If my own family was not going to interest me then perhaps another more entertaining family would fit the bill.
Well another more interesting family did manage to make an appearance at the next table over. Much more interesting. More interesting than an almost 16 year old could handle.
At first glance this newly seated family did not seem as though they would be offering me any diversion. A standard, rather well dressed basic looking whitebread couple. The husband had that professional authoritative bearing with a side of arrogance that made me think he must have been a physician. I thought at the time that the dude had an uptight look behind his eyes. A simmering nervousness that he was barely keeping under the surface. (did I mention I was bored?)
His wife was heavily pregnant. And there were children. 4 or perhaps 5 young children. Each one aged about a year apart from the other. Uggh. They were horrible children. Did you think that parents who sit in restaurants and let their brats run wild was a modern development? Think again because it was certainly happening on the day I was turning 16 and that was EONS ago.
The little demons ran amok. They stood up on chairs and jumped from one chair to the other. They stuck chopsticks into various orifices. They screamed, they sang, they weaved through tables chasing each other. My own mother actually caught one of the little fiends as it fell off a chair. (Did I mention the close proximity of our tables?) Uptight hubby and pregnant mum did not seem to notice their spawn’s misbehavior. Shouldn’t the kid’s own mom be the one to have noticed the impending fall and caught her own offspring?
I pondered just how interesting our table neighbors were going to turn out to be. Five awful little kids and the poor woman pregnant with another. “Must be Catholic.” I thought. I quickly chided myself for assuming such a thing. Then the family’s dinner guest showed himself. A priest. I chided myself for chiding myself.
The family stood to greet Father. Father was HUGE. An enormous priest. Respectful greetings were exchanged.
Gah, boring. Family with shitty kids meets massive priest for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I decided that this plotline was probably not going very far and turned my attention to my own family and our arriving entrees.
But yet…there was that barely below the surface tension exuding from sharp dressed husband. I’d have to keep an eye on the situation in case this foreshadowing actually led to something more captivating than my mu shu vegetables.
I glanced over briefly to see corpulent priest squeezing into his seat at the table. I took a few bites of eggroll and noticed some potential activity. The restaurant manager stormed over to the table and angrily told the parents that their children had to behave or they would be asked to leave. I didn’t see it because it happened behind me, but my mom told me that one of the little dervishes had run in front of a waiter almost making the poor guy drop his tray of food.
Were we reaching a denouement? Or was this that middle part of the performance where the action briefly picks up and then slides back down again before the final curtain? I wondered what was going to happen next. Was there going to be a fight? Was Dad going to become outraged and get in the manager’s face? He did kind of seem like the type to do that. Were they going to be loudly escorted out before they even got their food?
No such luck. The parents took it quietly. Sigh. The priest did not react at all. The table calmed down. The waiter, free from toddler tripping hazards, brought the family their meal. They said grace. Yawn. I picked at my fried rice. Most boring birthday dinner ever.
As uninteresting as the next table’s events were I felt by this time that I was already engaged in what little intrigue there was so I might as well keep watching. You know how it is when you’re watching a bad movie but you’re kind of interested to see how it all turns out? Let’s finish this up, right?
I shot a quick look at the priest. My quick look turned into an out and out blatant stare. Father had become completely captivated by his meal, seemingly oblivious to anyone and anything else. He was devouring food like a woodchipper. A huge plate of spareribs. His eyes seemed to glaze over. He barely paused after finishing one sparerib before quickly picking up another and starting the whole process anew. I dropped my fork mid bite and gawked.
My trance was broken when the dad made an abrupt pronouncement that the mom had to take all her brood to the restroom before they started eating their dinner. The priest did not seem to notice nor even hear dad’s sudden order. It was as if the family had entirely disappeared from Father’s periphery and the only thing in his world was that rapidly diminishing giant plate of spareribs.
Husband briefly got up to help herd the children in the direction of the restrooms, which were all the way past the kitchen to the other end of the building. When he was satisfied that Mom and her litter were safely out of earshot he quickly dashed back and planted himself in the chair next to Father.
“She’s really sick, Father” said husband. “The pregnancy is not going well.” Whoa! Here we go. He explained what was wrong using a ridiculous amount of medical terminology. My first impression was correct. He was a physician. My ears perked up big time. I was listening now.
Unfortunately the dad seemed to have more of my attention than the priest’s. Father was still intent on gobbling as many spareribs as possible.
“She might not make it, Father.” said the guy, quickly glancing back to see if his wife and kids were on their way back. Holy crap! Now I wasn’t even keeping up the pretense of pretending not to eavesdrop. I was unabashedly staring, mouth agape.
Father continued on his sparerib quest without even making eye contact with the guy who had just shared some pretty awful personal news with him. To be fair he did occasionally offer the dad some possibly sympathetic sounding grunts between swallows. I felt for the dad, really I did. He laid his soul bare to a priest who seemed more interested in swallowing whole spareribs than providing comfort to a distressed flock member.
Husband continued his confession. Priest continued his eating and grunting. “She doesn’t know.” the man said. “She doesn’t know anything about this at all.” What?! She could potentially DIE and the dude used his medical connections to keep that fact from her?! “I don’t want her to know.” He went on. “Besides, when the time comes she’ll more more worried about the kids anyway.”
OMG. (which was not an expression back then but seems apropos now) What was the priest going to say about this? I imagined the script in my head.
“You must tell her, my son” said Father in my imaginary screenplay. “Keep her informed. Offer her comfort. Gather your loved ones. Let’s pray about this. Let us take this to Jesus.” Yes. Certainly Father would say this. Or something like this. I waited.
Father finished his last sparerib. I was sure this was going to be the moment where his divine wisdom would enlighten Dad. He spoke.
“Could you pass me that eggroll?”
Are you kidding me?! Really?! Those were his Heavenly inspired words of wisdom?
And get this. The dude totally passed him that eggroll.
And then Mom and kids came back. They sat down. Normal conversation resumed. Mom talked about her imminent delivery. She was enthusiastic. “I hope it all goes well, Father.” she said. “You never know. Of course this one…” she jerked her thumb at hubby “…this one just bought a big life insurance policy on me!” She laughed. “I don’t know why!”

Mrs. O’Quillen

UPDATE: This post has been changed from it’s original incarnation.  A 40 year old photograph of “Mrs. O’ Quillen” (not her real name) had to be quickly changed to a ridiculous clip art female leprechaun.  Mrs. O never read this but somehow her sister in law did.  Sis -in-law angrily told me that Mrs. O would be “crushed” to read something like this. Ordered me to remove it immediately.  Said I was demonstrating “poor form”. I kinda agreed but informed her that the story would stay and then offered the well known “If people wanted you to write warmly about them then they should have behaved better” quote. Of course she was indignant. She then sent her own sister (no relation to Mrs. O) after me to try and bully me with email threats.  I relented and agreed to remove the photograph and change identifying details.  But the story stays.  Although we have mutual friends I have never met sis-in-law face to face.  Nor her bullying sister. But I sometimes wonder how they would have felt if their own children were treated so poorly in school. Something tells me they would be angrily rushing to the kid’s defense and turning their fighting indignation to the shitty teacher.  All a matter of perspective, huh?femalelep
Mrs. O’Quillen was our 6th grade science and homeroom teacher at Villa Maria Elementary in Erie, PA. I truly do not know what her teaching qualifications were but she came from a big Catholic family. I have said before that Catholic schools in the 70s did not actually require their lay teachers to have teaching qualifications. Villa Maria Elementary was no exception. They wanted Catholic teachers that worked cheaply. Did Mrs. O’Quillen know anything about science? At times she seemed to. She was certainly a huge improvement over the previous science “teacher”, a Mr. Nick DeSantis, who spent the entire hour of every science class talking endlessly about his knee surgeries, reading the book Dracula out loud to us and constantly making fun of several of the students’ names. He was particularly fond of calling one of the very few Jewish students, a boy named Israel, “Egypt”. Mr. DeSantis thought he was hilarious and switching Israel’s name was one of his favorite gambits. We all enjoyed Mr. DeSantis’ class but learned absolutely nothing about science. To be fair, Mrs. O’Quillen did run a halfway decent class. We had an aquarium in the classroom. We had gerbils! We had some fairly new books. Almost all the Villa Elementary schoolbooks were from the 50s and 60s so a modern science text was a huge improvement. Mrs. O’Quillen was tiny. Probably no more than 5 feet tall. And she was all about being Irish. Her Irish ethnicity was a huge part of her identity. And we students had better know that. Nothing thrilled Mrs. O’Quillen more than the approach of St. Patrick’s Day. Her classroom was bedecked in green. Irish maps all over the walls. “You must be Irish.” She said to me once. “Those green eyes!” She ordered us to wear something green on St. Paddy’s Day and was angry when I didn’t. I told her my eyes were my green adornment of the day. One of my more enterprising classmates scotch taped a blade of grass to his uniform shirt. Mrs. O’Quillen was not totally unkind as many of her Villa Elementary teaching co-horts were. She was not physically violent. There were two other teachers that taught during the same era as she, Miss Myers and Mrs. Bullock, who were quite slap happy. At least Mrs. O’Quillen taught without smacking students and that was always a relief. She WAS ridiculous though. Although she did not dislike me as much as some of her fellow teachers from the Villa 1970s Decade of Shitty Teachers did, she was annoyed by me. In most particular she HATED to hear me laugh. Odd, huh? I once saw her staring at me while I was in a group of students telling jokes. She told me to come speak to her. She was angry yet smirking. “I heard your laughter above everybody else’s.” She told me, then repeated. “Everybody else’s“. I still had half a smile from the joke telling session so she stared hard at me for a few seconds. “You don’t know what that means, do you?” She finally asked. My smile started to fade. “It means you laughed harder and louder than all the other kids. Do you even realize you do that? I always hear you laughing above all my other students and that’s WRONG!. Girls should not laugh SO hard. And you are to laugh quietly, do you understand me? You are foolish and you’re embarrassing yourself. Now don’t let me hear you laughing that loudly ever again.” My smile gone by this time, I cast my head down and walked away totally ashamed. Isn’t it crazy how I still find myself doing that? Quieting my laughter and walking with my head cast downward. Mrs. O’Quillen enjoyed humiliating students that got her “Irish up”. I cringe at the memory of a mentally challenged boy named Shawn. I liked Shawn. He was into science fiction and weird off the wall stuff that I also enjoyed. Mrs. O’Quillen did not like Shawn. Shawn annoyed her. He was dealing with some pretty severe mental health issues that drove Mrs. O’Quillen off her Irish rocker. He sometimes had difficulty controlling his facial expressions so Mrs. O’Quillen brought in a hand mirror from her home. She made Shawn look into it for an entire 45 minute class so he could see “how ridiculous you look, Shawn”. It broke my heart. I have no idea if Mrs. O’Quillen is still teaching. She must be in her 60s by now. I was always hoping to run into her someday. Supposedly she still lives in town. I want to tell her that Shawn died in a mental hospital. I want to tell her that I was completely unimpressed by Ireland. That Eire was so completely different from the lush, scenic green photos she plastered around her classroom. That it was dull, grey, damp, rainy. It felt like being in a third world country sometimes. I thought about her this St. Pat’s Day. It’s a big day for her. Hope she enjoyed it. Hope she is no longer ridiculous.

Catholic School Nonsense (MUCH More To Come Later)

Sister Margaret Frank, SSJ
Sister Margaret Frank, SSJ

It was recently pointed out to me that I join the Villa Maria Elementary of Erie, Pennsylvania Alumni group on Facebook. Along with that suggestion came the preposterous idea that I should also friend request the former principal of VME, one Sister Margaret Frank SSJ. To me Sr. Margaret has always been evil personified. I once called her the Antichrist but retracted that statement after I realized how unkind it was to say that. Not to mention a great insult to the Antichrist.

Astonishingly I have run into many fellow alumni who adored her. Memory is subjective and we all experience things and people differently. A while back I saw her. The first time I encountered the woman as an adult. She recognized me immediately and praised me for having been in so many theatrical productions. “You always hated me.” I blurted out. The words came automatically to my lips. “Nooooo!” she declared. “Yes.” I countered. But as I just said, memory is subjective.

My earliest letdown in the Catholic school known as Villa Maria Elementary was the day of my first holy communion. At that point, at seven years of age, I had already been kicked out of a religion class. The incident occurred the year before in first grade. I had suggested that the class should not be praying in the chapel that day. The bewildered old nun was quite affronted by this and asked me why not. I indicated that the huge candle in the sacristy was not lit. In a previous tour of the chapel it was pointed out to us that the fire burning on the candle signified the presence of God. “That means God is here with us, children.” said Sister Drool. Now of course Sister Drool was not her real name but we children could not keep up with the numerous old corpses sent down from the motherhouse (which at that time was a few floors upstairs from our classrooms) that we had to name them by their attributes. “God’s not here today.” I explained to Sister D. whose openmouthed gasp temporarily stopped the flow of drool. I was made to stand outside the chapel while the good children were led in prayer.

Well, hey,maybe this would be my first chance to try some of that holy water from the basin sitting in the marble cherub’s outstretched hands. Nobody was looking and holy water must taste awesome, right?! Probably better than Kool-Aid! Better than Tang! Maybe even better than chocolate milk! After all it is holy! Word to the wise, kids. Yuck.

Yet holy water had to be nothing compared to the communion host that by second grade I was now going to be allowed to eat! Now this had to be something special. For one thing, only adults were permitted to take it and for another, it was BLESSED! Blessed by priests who had power that was passed down to them from Jesus Himself! And not only that, we had to partake in a special ceremony just to become eligible to eat this magic bread!

I was anxiously awaiting this most holy of communion days. We had a practice run in which we did get to eat an actual real honest to goodness communion wafer. I was discouraged that it tasted so terrible until we were informed by Sister Weeble that the practice bread had NOT been blessed. Well that explained it. No flavor and no magical powers.

I spent the day of my communion being primped by and for the adults in my life. Curlers, flowers, jewelry and a very uncomfortable starched white dress and veil. All fripperies that I normally hated but could tolerate on this most holy special day.

Communion day came and went. I ate the special bread. And I was not miraculously endowed with special powers. I had really been hoping for the ability to fly. After all, Jesus flew all the time, didn’t He? At least in my seven year old mind he did. ( Four years later, in sixth grade , I saw a production of Jesus Christ Superstar whereupon I overcame my disappointment that our savior apparently did not have the power of flight. Now He could sing rock and roll which was even cooler.)

In third grade Villa Maria Elementary became what I affectionately refer to as a school for troubled teachers. My guess is that the decrepit creatures from the motherhouse could no longer make the journey downstairs to instruct us. Since they taught for free (or maybe it was for  room and board) the school had to find alternative educators. That third grade year started a succession of interesting characters at the head of our classrooms. To describe them all would be a blog unto itself. It was as if the new principal, Sister Margaret Frank, shouted out the window at passersby and asked them if they wanted to be a teacher then invited them in if they answered yes. Some were ineffectual, some were actually dedicated wonderful educators and some were downright abusive.

Holy communion did not bestow any particular blessing on me as the ensuing years at Villa Maria Elementary only got more hellish.

Mrs. Susan Bullock was my third grade homeroom teacher. A new hire, Mrs. Bullock was one of Sister Margaret’s pool of low bid foot soldiers. Surprisingly, Mrs. Bullock actually had a degree in education. What she lacked was humanity. Third grade began what was to become a year of horrible difficulties for me…difficulties that I’ll explain briefly below. Difficulties that made ME difficult and Mrs. Bullock took an instant seething dislike to me.

One of Mrs. Bullock’s favorite gambits was to point out my ridiculousness or stupidity to the rest of the class. All activities had to stop while this humiliating event occurred. “Class, please stop what you’re doing” she would start and I knew I was in for it. She would hold up my paper or point out some absurd thing I had done and say “I want you all to see what Karen (redacted) has done this time.” She always blended my first and last name into one. “If you had any brains in your head at all, Karen(redacted), I think they would rattle!” was one of her fondest directives toward me. To this day I get very shy about introducing myself with my first and last name. I still hear Mrs. Bullock’s putdowns even in my adult head.

To be somewhat fair to Mrs. Bullock I have to offer the full disclosure that I did become a very difficult child for any teacher to deal with the year she started teaching. Awful things that happened outside the school changed my behavior for the worse. Early in my third grade year I was molested by my pediatrician and later that year my father went into a coma and hovered between life and death for many weeks. I became an angry, frightened, insecure and defiant child.

I became “trouble”.  An annoyance. And a huge thorn in Sister Margaret’s side.

I saw the unsympathetic, money worshipping side of the Catholic church at a very early age. The same Catholic mentality that sent scores of known child raping priests to poorer parishes.

God and Sister Margaret favored the rich kids. It was too much of a bother to extend time and compassion to the child of working class parents who had difficulty making tuition payments.

At one point during a particularly nasty Sister Margaret Shitlist Session (that would be where the good sister called in her least favorite students one by one to angrily insult us and tell us what rotten Catholics we were) she asked me to leave Villa Maria Elementary. “Maybe you belong in public school.” she told me. The words “public school” were spit out of her mouth with a disgusted sneer. Just saying “public school” in that building was akin to uttering a profanity.

This was good news to me! Surely I could take this statement to my mother and it would treated as some sort of royal command. A decree from her royal heinous, Sister Margaret, that I be banished to the uncivilized lowlands known as public education! Naturally, I did not see this as a banishment but as a release, an early release from prison.

Unfortunately that day only got worse as the next victim on Sister Margaret’s shitlist was my dear friend Ann (REDACTED). She was going into Sister’s office as I was leaving. Ann had not been at Little Villa very long but she and I had bonded deeply. Ann’s troubled childhood and family difficulties of her own cemented our bond. We had glommed onto each other. Nobody else found religion class as boring and as humorous as Ann and I did. Two little blasphemous heretics in sea of pious, compliant urchins.

Ann left VME that very day. Sister Margaret had apparently given her the same “You would be better off in (sneer, spit) public school .” speech. Ann’s’ mother was called and Ann was quickly and quietly spirited away from VME forever. ( I still envy her!) She asked Sister Margaret if she could go back into the classroom to say goodbye to me but Sister was still in heartless bitch mode and refused that request. Ann’s last act of Catholic school rebellion was to write me a beautifully touching farewell letter which she slipped into my locker while gathering her things.

My mother does not remember Sister Margaret’s decree. I certainly remember my plaintive plea that I be allowed to leave that school because it was a plea that was repeated every day for many more years after that. I suspect that my mother quickly tired of hearing the same request day after day and just tuned me out. Even Summer vacation did not go by without a daily appeal to be transferred to a different, preferably non-Catholic school. Still every summer ended the same way.

Back in line at VME. All the students being greeted by a grinning Sister Margaret whose smile abruptly left her face upon seeing me. Perhaps she smiled at my eighth grade graduation , secure in the knowledge that I would never be back


HorseyPrincessYou will know how Princess Ambulance was crowned with that moniker towards the end of the story. I do not know her. I can’t even recall her real name. All I know is that she is a local teenager who attempts to ride and show horses. Whether or not she is successful at either of those endeavors is a mystery to me. She certainly failed at both on the day that I encountered her.  I can’t know if she ever picked  herself up, dusted herself off and truly became a competitive rider because I stopped helping out at horse shows. And she would be the reason why.

As mentioned, I have stopped volunteering my time to help out at the local charity horse shows. The charity I refer to is a handicapped riding facility (see link at end of post) that operates out of the stable where I used to ride.  My good friend and riding instructor, Stephanie,  teaches from that barn and I was happy to announce for the horse shows she manages. These riding competitions benefit the therapeutic riding program so I was glad to oblige.

Of all the shows , the hunter/jumper competitions were by far the most popular and well attended.  I arrived at the stable early in the morning to watch sleek horses unloaded from their trailers. These horses were followed by a plethora of teen princesses I could only identify by their assigned show numbers.  These little English riding girls seemed to take on a certain sameness.  Not just because they all wear the exact same jacket, helmet and breeches as the competitor before them,  but also because of their demeanor and attitude.  A certain set of their mouths, length of hair and sense of entitlement.

And speaking of assigned show numbers let’s go there.  It became a problem. First thing in the morning I sat at the entry table with the show administrator and helped distribute the number placards the riders were to wear during the competition.  Apparently we did not do such a great job because problems arose almost immediately.

A few of the young ladies were unhappy with their numerical assignments.  “But I always get number 36!” whined one girl who looked to be about 16.   The administrator informed Wendy Whiner that the number 36 had already been assigned to another rider.  Wendy raised both her volume and pitch and repeated her mantra anew. “BUT I ALWAYS GET NUMBER 36!!!”  A line was beginning to form behind her.  I repeated what the administrator had already told her. She stomped her foot and whipped out her cellphone. “MOM!” she bellowed into the phone. “Get over here! They won’t let me have number 36!”

Moments later Mom appeared. “What can we do about this?” Mom demanded. “She has to have 36. It’s her lucky number. She NEEDS it.” Several more minutes of discussion led to the overly accommodating administrator finding the rider who had previously gotten the number 36 placard and negotiating a trade.  Unfortunately Whiny Number 36 was not the exception to the rule. Quite  a few teenage girls demanded “their” special lucky numbers.  One girl who actually had the good luck to receive her requested number curtly told me not to expect the placard back as she was taking it home to place in her scrapbook.  Informed by the administrator that there would be a fine for the unreturned number the young rider snapped “Well, don’t tell me! Duh. Tell my mom.”

That show, along with the following hunter/jumper shows proved to be very long , trying days for me. I wondered if perhaps it was because I had been primarily a western rider and was accustomed to a friendlier, albeit no less competitive atmosphere. This blog is certainly not at all about English vs. western riding and I am making every effort so that it does not appear so biased. Not every girl who rode in the hunter/jumper shows behaved badly. There were some gracious and lovely young horsewomen in training and it was a great privilege to watch them effortlessly ride a jump course (something I could only do when my instructor shouted out constant commands to me) and display their excellent equitation.

I also admit to some extra sensitivity to the difficult events at these shows because I was often remembering my own struggle riding and showing as a teenager. I was also peripherally aware that I was coming to the end of my own days as a rider and it stung.

As it was those hunter shows were long days of being rudely treated by these spoiled young girls and their indulgent mothers.  I was mystified and slightly heartsick that these riders could not even summon one iota of gratitude for the tremendous privilege of having a life journey that was blessed with the great good fortune of owning and riding horses.

Yet I kept plugging away. I felt their ingratitude stab into my heart. I remembered the difficulty achieving my own young horse dreams.  I tried to keep telling myself that the show was not about them. That I was doing it for the disabled riders who struggled mightily for that half hour of therapeutic riding time.  Then “Princess Ambulance” swept in to take over one memorable hunter jumper competition.

This particular show featured the usual teenage girl tantrums,  hissies and general poor behavior.  I endeavored to take the rudeness in stride. Even laughed at the three girls who rolled their eyes and swore at me when I informed each one that she was to be the next rider in the jumping arena.

Princess Ambulance arrived with her dowdy mother.  Her thin frame and blond hair contrasted greatly with her petite mother’s short brown hair and glasses.  Although Princess Ambulance was not mean to me personally she did bark orders to her harried mom.  Much to my surprise her mom actually marched to these orders.  I looked at this mother and recognized a cowed woman.  I saw it in her eyes and in the way she carried herself.  I beheld a woman who would walk on shards of fiery broken glass if she thought it would make her princess happy.  She was definitely one of those women who always left the decision making to someone else. Unquestioningly carrying out the demands of others.  I felt both sympathy and contempt for her.

I did not watch as Princess rode out her turn on the jump course but I was asked to announce her disqualification. I pressed the button on the walkie – talkie and asked the judge to repeat her request. The judge responded that Princess had gone around the course in the wrong direction! “Yeah, that’s an immediate disqualification.” said the administrator.  I made my announcement and we got back to tallying the previous class scores.

The sound of a throat clearing made us look up from our scoresheets.  Mother Ambulance stood somewhat nervously before us.  Looking as though she would rather be anywhere else she took a deep breath.  “My daughter needs another go – round.” she said. “She has to have another chance.”  The administrator and I both gaped for a moment but it was the administrator who spoke first.  “Um, your daughter rode the course backwards.” she said.  Mother Ambulance told us it was not her princess’ fault.  I then responded by saying that the course is visibly posted for all competitors to review before and during the show.  I tactfully held back the fact that it was your usual easy to follow jump course that is standard in every novice hunter/jumper schooling show from here to Mesopotamia.

“She’s very upset.” Mother told us. “It’s not her fault.”  Administrator and I both stared silently to wait for the explanation to this gem of information.  Mother cleared her throat again and attempted to become more assertive. “That’s how she was told to ride it.” she finally informed us.  Once again the administrator and I exchanged astonished looks.  “By whom?!” administrator asked.  Mother pointed at Stephanie and our looks of bewilderment grew.  I did not trust myself to speak further and ask why Stephanie, the show manager and COURSE DESIGNER, not to mention experienced rider, teacher and trainer (Heck, Steph taught me, a western rider who had never jumped so much as a log, how to jump sidesaddle!) would tell a rider to jump the course BACKWARDS! Sheesh.

Luckily the administrator is a more tolerant and accommodating soul than myself and she said we could ask the judge. She told Mom that it would be unlikely that the judge would concede to a second ride for the pouting princess but we would ask anyway.  Of course that meant that I was to make this ridiculous request of the judge via walkie – talkie.

As tactfully as possible I sent out this pleading petition to the judge. There was a pause. Even over walkie – talkie airwaves I could read the subtext of that pause.  In that brief moment of silence I definitely  heard “Did I just hear that?! What, are you fucking kidding me?!” Then the familiar crackle and the judge’s voice came through with kind but firm negative response.

The mother stared at us for a few seconds then sighed heavily and went to break the distressing news to her little princess.  I then knew the reason for the heavy sigh as I watched Princess’ reaction to said bad news.  Honestly , if I hadn’t known what just transpired I would have guessed that Mother was telling the girl that the rest of their family had been brutally murdered.  At first an incredulous open mouthed gawk.  Then a crimson face with a look of disbelief.  Then the tears. Oh Lord, the tears.  A burst of tears. Followed by ANOTHER burst of tears. A toddler’s tantrum in a teenage body.  Mom attempted to say more but Princess cried harder and led her horse away.  She planted herself conspicuously in the connecting aisle that brought the competitors into the showring.  My guess is that she wanted to be seen by as many people as possible. An emotional reaction to such a grave injustice deserves a wide audience.

Princess leaned up against the connector wall and began her sobs anew.  I swear that her  horse seemed embarrassed.  I think I even saw him manage a horsey eye roll. I felt for him.  I really wanted to feel ashamed for her. Truly I did. My attempt to muster any sympathy for her failed.  I ended up feeling worse for her poor horse who had to stand there and maintain some sort of dignity while his rider bawled her eyes out in front of everyone.

It made me flash back to a time when I was her age (mid to late teens) and felt like crying at a horse show. I had been terribly nervous just knew in my heart that I was going to have a lousy ride.  My own mother, herself a childhood horse show veteran , was not as sympathetic as Mother Ambulance. “Look.” My mom told me impatiently. “This is supposed to be FUN. Do you understand? If you are not having FUN then unsaddle the damn horse and we will leave right now.”

Unfortunately for Princess Ambulance her day at the horse show was only going to get worse. Her misfortune was my good luck as I enjoy a true instant karmic bitchslap as much as anyone.  It also indulged my fondness for dark comedy with a measure of appropriate slapstick. That may sound awfully cruel in light of the events I am about to describe, but please bear with me…nobody was hurt during the couse of Princess’  hapless accident.

With tremendous will the Princess of LamentationLand brought her tears under control to enter the equitation class.  No jumps in this class but I silently prayed that she would follow another competitor into the ring so as not to start riding around in the wrong direction.  Ever get that feeling that a disaster is about to happen? I watched the equitation class. No riders stood out as being exceptionally good or bad but It did concern me that Princess was leaning up and out of her saddle almost constantly.  Once again I mentally lauded her horse. Not only did he have to put up with her emotional maelstroms he also had to stay balanced while she maintained an absurd position halfway out and forward of her saddle.  The class was going well until the judge asked for the canter.

A few beats into the canter and down came Princess’ horse.  He stumbled. Fell down to his knees and Princess flew off of him and landed with a thud. Her horse righted himself almost instantly but Princess remained prostrate on the ground. I made an announcement to clear the arena.  Several people including Princess’ mom and Stephanie flew to her side.  I overheard parts of the conversation.  Mom asked if she wanted an ambulance. In true dramatic Camille From Her Deathbed fashion Princess eked out a “Yes!”.  Stephanie called an ambulance while Princess waited on the ground surrounded by an entourage of sympathy givers.

I could almost sense the paramedic’s annoyance as the arena doors opened and the ambulance backed up inside.  Several minutes passed. The medics asked all the pertinent questions.  Princess vocally expressed her desire to be taken to the hospital but the medic’s exam negated this request.  Finally the senior paramedic stood up and put an end to Princess’ wailing by saying “Why don’t you just chalk it up to a bad day at the horse show okay? Just a bad day at the horse show.” The other medic also stood up and they walked back to the ambulance. I saw them both shake their heads.  Gosh I hope nobody had a heart attack while they were ministering to that girl.

I turned away in disgust from the rest of the action but was later told that Princess got up and walked out of the arena of her own volition.  Completely uninjured. I’m sure there were plenty of tears but I was not about to watch anymore.  I finished out the day but never returned to volunteer at the stable again.

I don’t know who you are Princess Ambulance, but I sincerely hope that you have grown up since your “bad day at the horse show”.  Maybe you learned a little bit about how unfair life can be. I certainly had that lesson driven into me for about the millionth time by YOU at that very same competition.  Some people do not deserve horses.  Yet they get them anyway because they have wealthy indulgent parents.  Horseback riding,  horse ownership and competing in horse shows are all great privileges.

Let me tell you something about horse shows, Princess.  Sometimes you do not get the blue ribbon (or any ribbon for that matter) even when you know you have ridden well and deserve it more than your fellow competitors.  And sometimes you get an undeserved ribbon when you know you have been outridden. That happened to me once. Got a first place in a jumping class where I knew I totally sucked. Even the person handing me the blue ribbon grimaced and shook their head.  I rode horribly and wondered if the judge was even watching me.

And sometimes we mess up and that is why we get disqualified and ruin our own chances to be in the ribbons.  I rode a barrel racing course backwards one time.  MY fault.  There is no way my mother would have begged the judges for me to have another go.  In fact she laughed! Thought it was funny and admonished me to pay attention next time.

Yes, we all fall. It’s scary. It must be dreadfully humiliating to fall at a show. But that humiliation does not give you the right to disrupt the show because of your own great need for attention.  I was briefly unconscious after one of my scariest falls and you know what my mother did? If you are guessing that she called an ambulance you would be incorrect.  No. She waited until I remembered where I was and what happened then told me that I should probably get back on the horse.  I did.

My grandfather used to have a saying. “Don’t make a monkey out of that horse.” he would tell his young charges before they entered the horse show ring.  It used to be just a silly thing he always said but as I grew, and especially as I watched competitive riders, it meant more.  The great privilege of being an equine caretaker means many things.  Yes of course the typical things. Make sure they are well fed, happy and healthy. But it also meant to remember their dignity and respect them as  the noble creatures that they are.

I hope that your horse taught you that lesson, Princess Ambulance. He really showed you up didn’t he? You need to become as dignified and gracious as your mount. Enjoy the process. The ribbons mean nothing. In the end it really is all about the enjoyment of these magnificent creatures, isn’t it? Be grateful that they let us be their companions and caretakers.  Do you think your horse gives a crap about showing? He does it for you, Princess.   I also hope that you will someday look AT instead of THROUGH your mother. She tries hard and means well.  Do not see her as the lackey that helps you get into equestrian competitions. See her as the reason you are able to ride a horse at all. It’s an expensive hobby. One that thousands of little girls only dream about.  Think about those girls and realize how fortunate you are.  My greatest hope for you, Princess, is that you will lose the entitled attitude, sharpen your riding skills and become worthy of your horse.  Until then, SUCK IT.