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By: Taylor Reese

Chapter I

     Todd's mother rushed into the bedroom, removed the blanket, and took him from his crib. She ran out of the house, down the short lane and onto the unpaved road with the baby in her arms. It was a quarter of a mile to the next farm and another hundred yards or more to the Thomas house.

     She stood at the gate with Todd in her arms and yelled, "Mr. Thomas, Mr. Thomas,"then waited for him to respond. He didn't. She rushed a little closer to his house, stopped and called again, "Mr. Thomas."

     After a few moments the kitchen door opened, and a man stepped out onto the back porch.

     "Yeah, Willa Mae. What do you want?"

     "Come as fast as you can," she yelled. "Uncle Zack's having another one of his crazy fits, and I can't handle him when he's acting like that. Can you help me?"

     "All right, Willa Mae." Mr. Thomas reached up to the hat rack, grabbed his cap and ran as fast as he could to catch up with her and Todd. Together they rushed back to her house.

     As they entered the yard, Uncle Zack was still fussing. "Damn you. If I had wanted you to sing I would have asked you; and besides, you--you over there on that top limb--you don't even sing on key. Shut up! Shut up! I told you to shut up."

     His warning made no difference to the birds. They continued to sing. He became so angry that he picked up a small chock of wood and threw it at them. Leaves and limbs prevented his powerful throw from hitting any of the birds, but the commotion caused them to fly to a nearby tree, where they continued their morning ritual.

     With Todd in her arms, Willa Mae went inside the house and closed the door. Mr. Thomas walked up to the old man and put his hand on Uncle Zack's shoulder.

     "Zack, them birds aren't harming you. God put them here to brighten your day."

     "Then God didn't know what He was doing. That's not music. Has He ever heard me play the piano?"

     "I'm sure He has, Zack, but He doesn't comment on everything that goes on down here on earth; you know that."

     "Well, He should hear me. Where are his priorities?"

     Mr. Thomas took him by the hand and gently led him to the front porch. "Let's just sit here for a while. Willa Mae will fix you some breakfast, and I could use a cup of coffee myself. Have you had breakfast?"

     "No. You know, I live alone in the old place down yonder, ever since mama died. I miss her, but I know everybody's got to check in sooner or later. It seems to me that sometimes the Master takes the good for himself and leaves the evil down here on earth. Do you think you and I will go someday or will the Master make an exception?"

     "I'm afraid God doesn't make that type of exception. But, I'll tell you this, you'd better get right with Him. Don't keep cussing them birds. They aren't doing you any harm.

     "And, Zack, in the first place, why do you cuss? You don't have to use profanity like that when something doesn't go the way you think it should. It's normal to be upset now and again, but there are other ways to handle your frustration or dissatisfaction."

     "You might be right, but it sure helps to say what you think in the way you want to say it. What do you say when you're angry?"

     "I try to sorta hold it back, and the first thing you know it goes away."

     "Well, I'm not married and you are, so I guess you've had more of those situations. I'm telling you right now, though, it doesn't sound normal to me, and it's not healthy, either, to hold all that feeling inside."

     Willa Mae came to the door and said, "I'll have breakfast in a few minutes."

     Uncle Zack was Willa Mae's husband's uncle. He was a bachelor, lived alone in the old home place since his mother died, except for when Annabelle, the colored woman, came to clean and cook. Some days she was there all day and then would stay overnight. Most said that Uncle Zack never had a girlfriend, but others knowingly nodded their heads.

     "She's young--I'll bet you not more than thirty-five--and she's neat and awfully helpful to his every wish," said one of the church members. "And besides that," she continuned, "she's not black, not black-black, you know. She's sort of in between. Somewhere along the line a spot of yellow got mixed in. Plus that, I think she's pretty."

     Uncle Zack was well-educated and a gifted pianist. He did bookkeeping for many of the small businesses in Leviton, located in eastern North Carolina. When he was not doing that, he played the piano at civil and social affairs, weddings, and at the homes of some of the people in the area. He loved playing the piano and would do so for hours, socially or for his own amusement.

     He had previously been conscripted for service during the Civil War, but shortly after he entered, the doctors learned that he had kidney problems, piles and a bladder infection. They gave him a medical discharge, and he returned to the old home place in Leviton, a small town of only about 1000 people, but an active community.

     Willa Mae yelled from the front door, "Uncle Zack, your breakfast is ready. And, Mr. Thomas, I fixed you a big cup of hot coffee."

     They went inside, and while Uncle Zack was eating scrambled eggs, biscuits and thickened gravy, Mr. Thomas had a cup of Willa Mae's good, strong coffee.

     When Uncle Zack finished eating, Mr Thomas said, "Zack, don't you think we ought to take a walk down to your place?"

     "All right. I'm ready." As they were leaving Uncle Zack said, "Willa Mae, you sure can make that gravy just like mama used to."

     As they started out he turned, looked up to the top of the the old oak tree and said, "Damn birds. They're up here every morning with their singing, chattering and squealing. God might have put them here for a purpose, but I sure don't believe He's the one responsible for their singing. He has to have better taste than that. And if He is responsible, He ought to listen to my playing. He'd change his mind."

     They continued down the road, and Mr. Thomas asked, "Zack, why haven't you ever married? You're talented, and you ain't bad looking. Now, I know you're not twenty-one, but a lot of women like you, and they love the way you play the piano. I just wondered why you never did hook up with one. There are a lot of them around, you know."

     "Well, it's like this: My mother always said I shouldn't marry unless I found someone I really loved--someone I loved more than anything else in the world. And you know something, I never have had that feeling. I've always loved myself. Don't you?"

     Mr. Thomas nodded.

     "Now, I do have a love, but it's not a woman."

     "What is it, Zack?"

     "It's music, Leon. I love to play that piano, and people love to hear me play. That makes me happy and it makes them happy. What more can a sane man ask for?" 

      "You got a point, my friend."

     "Then we agree."

     The two walked on down the road to Zack's house. And when they stepped on the porch, Mr. Thomas said, "Zack, why don't you just lie down and take it easy for a while. Rest never hurt any of us."

     "No, I don't want to. I'd rather play the piano. Come on in and listen."

     They stepped inside and Uncle Zack immediately walked over and sat on the piano bench. He was dramatic in anything he did.

     He pushed himself slightly away from the piano, extended his arms over the keyboard, looked over at Mr. Thomas and said, "Now, Leon, this is real music. It's called 'Moonlight Sonata.' It was mama's favorite. I play it for her at least once a day. She's not with me any longer, but I know she can hear it."

     He lowered his head, and for a moment was silent. Then he looked upward and said, "Mama, this one is for you," as he placed his hands over the keys and, after a dramatic series of delicate grace notes, he began playing. Mr. Thomas sat quietly, with his head bowed, until the old man completed the piece. And as he raised his head Uncle Zack rose from the bench, turned and, standing erect, looked straight at Mr. Thomas and took a bow.

     Mr. Thomas clapped lightly and said, "Zack, that was wonderful. You're really good. I like that piece; it's no wonder it was your mama's favorite."

     Mr. Thomas got up from the chair, turned and said, "Well, old friend, I'll be seeing you. Take care and don't you mess with them birds any more. God put them here for a purpose, just as he did you and me, and they like to sing their tunes as much as you like to play yours. So be a little easy on them."

     Without saying a word, Uncle Zack smiled, took another bow, and sat back on the piano stool and began playing a series of Chopin études.

     Mr. Thomas walked back to Willa Mae's. She stood inside the screen door. The fright Uncle Zack had given her had not dissipated.

     "I think he's okay now, Willa Mae. He's back at the piano, and that's where he's the happiest. Let's hope that he won't have another one for a while. I'd better be going now, but call if you need me."

     Willa Mae thanked him for the help he had been, but at the same time she knew that Uncle Zack was often a scary problem. She smiled as she reminded herself that you don't always have a say in who your relatives are, whether by marriage or otherwise.

     Todd contined to grow and Uncle Zack continued to tell the boy his tall tales with only an occasional bout with the birds or one of his crazy fits. The fits were not too bad when some of the older children were around. Their antics would turn the old man's attention to other things, and, with luck, the seizure would pass without incident.

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HUMOR Is Where You Find It

By: Taylor Reese


I could hardly resist staring as I stepped aboard the scenic bus and took a seat across the aisle from a beautiful young lady sitting beside the older gent. I used every excuse to look in her direction: the sights beyond her window, other passengers nearby, etc.

Finally, the elderly gentleman, looking a bit stern, inquired, "Young man, are you all right?"

"Yes," I replied. "Why do you ask?

"Because," he said, "me thinks yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look."


After finding the defendant guilty of stealing a box of chocolates, the judge asked him if he had anything to say.

"Yes, Your Honor, I do. I didn't steal that candy for myself. I took it for a young woman and her child sitting just outside the door of the store. They looked pitiful and hungry."

"You did, huh?"

"Yes, sir, I did, Judge. I guess you could just call me a modern-day Robin Hood."

"Well, Robin Hood," said the judge, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to send you away to Sherwood Forest for three days. "

Next case.


Please help me now, both large and small,

The young, the old, yes, one and all.

I know today of some who should,

But have not once since babyhood.

Most people say that I am used,

And there are those who have abused.

Some are generous when they donate,

Often enough to procreate.

But I will not abandon you;

I'm here to stay, and see it through.

I'm for the oldster and the youngster,

Still waiting, yes, your Trusty Dumpster.

A friend was traveling by Greyhound bus from Miami to Charlotte during the night hours. Although against policy, she boarded carrying a tiny White Crowned Blue Amazon parrot, cleverly cages in a small reed container. She placed the bag on the unoccupied seat beside her. The bird was fully grown and knew many words.

Later, the occupants of the bus were beginning to stop reading, talking, and beginning their nighttime naps. My friend placed a cloth napkin over the top of the cage. That was Reuben's signal to be heard. He squawked, "Good night."

At this point the lady sitting across the aisle looked over at my friend and said, "Good night."

Within minutes Reuben again said, "Good night." The lady looked over, this time with a puzzled expression.

My friend, embarrassed, said, "Please excuse me, but I am an amateur ventriloquist, and I'm just practicing."

"Oh, how nice,"said the lady, and then the three of them were quiet for the rest of the night.

When morning came and the occupants were beginning to talk, Reuben was once again heard from: "Good morning," he squawked, and the woman across the aisle looked over at my friend and said, "Good morning," and then added, "You know, I hope you keep at it, because you're really getting good."

Reuben remained quiet for the remainder of the trip, and has never again had the opportunity to help his owner with her ventriloquism.


Always a joker, my alert neighbor spotted me on the front porch and asked if I had tried the soup everyone was raving about. "It's called gold soup."

"No, I don't think I have. Did you say gold, g-o-l-d?"

"Yes, gold soup, and it's delicious," she said, "and so simple to make. All you need is 14 carrots."

Weddings have their humorous side, and here the participants are matched with our fine-feathered friends, and the activities generally associated with such affairs.

(Source: Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Birds)


Bride: Cooing Pigeon

Groom: Whip-poor-Will

Maid of Honor: tufted Titmouse

Best Man: Albatross Sympathizer

Bridesmaids: Beautiful Coots

Groomsmen: Friendly Grouse

Organist: Saw-Whet Owl Soloist: Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ushers: Prairie Chickens

Ring Bearer: Young Towhee

Preacher: The Red-robed Cardinal

Wedding Gown: White Grosbeak

Bridal Bouquet: Stomach Swallow

The Vows: Great Crested Flycatcher

Invitations: Sapsucker Brochures

Rehearsal Dinner: Spoonbill Payola

Wedding Reception: Quail Underclass

Honeymoon: The hummingbird Fright

Thank-You Notes: Raven Appreciation

HUMOR and A Little Bit More

By: Taylor Reese

Long-Distance Hauling

While signing books at a B. Dalton bookstore, a lady approached and wanted to purchase a book for her husband. In the course of the conversation I inquired as to her kind of work. She said that she worked in the headquarters of a long-distance truck-hauling firm where her husband was employed. And then she added that for years she and her husband were team drivers in long-distance hauling from coast to coast. They had made the trip over and over, week in and week out.

"It was a long haul," she said, "but we loved it. And we always traveled with our little poodle. His name was Randy Travis."

As our conversation continued, she became more generous with her interesting experiences, and I asked if during her cross-country travels with him if she and her husband each had their own CB handle.

"Oh, yes," she said.

"And what was your handle?"

"Little Miss Muffet."

"And his?"

"You won't believe it," she said, "but his is Potty Chair.
He said he calls himself that because on the road he has to listen to so much crap from the other drivers."

My newspaper delivery man is extremely reliable and prompt in delivering the paper, and always puts it in a wrapper when the weather is inclement. He also has a great sense of humor.

In the interest of recycling and conservation, I save the wrappers and when I have a stack I put them in the paper box for pickup.

On one occasion I left a bundle and put a note stating that he might want to use them again.

The morning after he picked them up, I found a note along with the day's paper. "My wife thanks you and says that it is good to recycle, and that that should extend to husbands."

Bumper Stickers - No. 1

While traveling south on Interstate 95, headed for Florida, I fell in behind a luxurious motor home, towing a medium-sized car. On its back bumper were the words:

"I go to where I'm towed to."

And here are others noted while traveling:

Normal people worry me

I tried to contain myself but escaped

We need more like you--off the road

Fertile Ground

While autographing at a book store, a customer, a mother I presumed, following by five small children--stairstep in size--approached and was looking at my book. We began to talk and she evidenced interest in vegetables and other health foods.

I asked, "Do you by any chance grow your own herbs?"

"No," she quickly replied, "Can't you tell? I grow children, and this is only half of them."

Not Bad Advice

Some of us will remember the occasion when President Lyndon Johnson was participating in an economic summit conference. The Japanese official had told him that the United States should devalue the American dollar, and Johnson is reported to have said, "Up your yen."

Bumper Stickers - No. 2

Mothers don't know it all...
But the rest is unimportant

If at first you don't succeed...
Try again--on the left

I can't go to work today....
Voices are telling me
To go home and clean my guns

Don't steal...
The government hates competition


One witty neighbor never fails to take advantage of an audience, be it in the backyard, the house, on the street or in the car. He constantly throws short takes or leads you into a corner.

"Say," he asked the neighbor lady on the other side of me, "did you realize that marriage is a three-ring circus?"

"And I suppose you are the ringmaster?"

"No, I'm not, but it is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, and the last, suffering.


An elderly retired nurse friend of mine came from a fews miles away to visit and brought some chicken soup, the kind that doctors say is good for a cold.

When she came in I was coughing and complaining and said, "Jo, I don't know what in the world this is, but it has held on for more than two weeks now, and I can't shake it. It really makes me feel lousy."

"I'm sorry to hear you've been ill. I didn't know about it until just yesterday. Have you had this before?" she asked.

"Yes, I have. Several years ago I had something just like this, and it, too, hung on and on for a long time."

"Well, then," she said, "you've got it again."

Jack R. Pyle and Taylor Reese * North Carolina Authors