Not Long Tales … December 10th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

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18.

Po-Tay-Gold

There was no advantage in being female.

Joni knew this for a fact. At sixteen years of age, she had spent her entire life living on a tiny settlement, stuck between Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The elements dictated your effort.

The climate decided your work

And the isolation made it virtually impossible to think about things like dresses and bows in your hair.

It was lift, push and survive. There wasn’t much more time or reason for anything else in this outpost which the original founders had named Sinsear. (These first pioneers might have found some humor in the name, but nobody left behind ever gave it a smile.)

Joni was an orphan. She wasn’t born that way. (Of course, no one is.) Four years earlier, her parents left Sinsear to travel to Portland in the Oregon state, to look for work on the docks. They never returned.

No one talked about it—partially because speculation was fruitless, possibilities were painful—and mostly because living in the harsh surrounding, there was just no time to care.

Joni was willing to pull her load. So she became the community pet, given a slender cot in the back end of the only municipal building in the region—a large log cabin.

She earned her keep the same way all the teenagers did. Of the three hundred and twenty-four people who still lived in the vicinity (that is, if the Hennings, with their six children, decided to stay) there were about sixteen teenagers. These adolescents were employed for one purpose. When the snow came—and the snow always did come—it was their job to keep the road to the mountain pass cleared, so the town deputy could drive his truck up the quarter mile to his lovely home.

He was the richest man in town. Unfortunately, his name was Baron Quigley. But he didn’t act like a baron. He was a pretty nice guy for someone who had too much when everybody else had too little.

Quigley paid this army of teenagers a dime a day each, to shovel out the road to his home after the snowstorms. A dime had become a lot of money since the Great Depression had spread all across the United States.

Joni once asked, tongue-in-cheek, “So, what makes this depression so great?” (People either didn’t get her humor or decided to ignore it. She never tried it again.)

It was 1934, and it was Monday, December 10th. Fifteen days ‘til Christmas.

Joni’s two constant companions were Cummings Johns and Darson Shakers. In a more civilized world, the two old fellows would be classified as ne’er-do-wells, but in Sinsear, they had both found their place. Cummings called himself a “moving mechanic,” and Darson was dubbed “The Gatherer.”

Cummings got his name because he came around to fix things, and as long as you gave him some food and permission to sleep in the warmth of your premises, he was happy to be of service. The same thing was true of Darson, whose title, “Gatherer,” referred to him pulling a small trailer in which he collected the community garbage. (No one knew where Darson took it. Most folks were afraid to ask.)

Joni had it figured that she was better off than most of the other people who lived in the U.S. After all, there was plenty of deer, moose and bear to shoot and drag home for food, lots of snow to keep things cold and tons of wood for a fire, to warm you up at the end of the day.

It was more than enough to survive—and when survival was the name of the game, wise people didn’t sit around and discuss improvement.

So it was a little surprising when a salesman appeared in the settlement, advertising the new “golden potatoes” from Boise, Idaho. He touted that these spuds were twice the size of the normal variety and he whispered to Baron Quigley and several of the men who had gathered at the cabin that “word had that the Simplot Potato Company had secretly inserted into fifty random potatoes one ounce of pure gold per each tuber.”

The sales fellow made the men swear that they would not say anything about it, but the men quickly broke their word, sharing it throughout the entire camp. For the first time in a long time, the gathering of human souls in Sinsear was buzzing with excitement. “Just think of it—a potato with gold in it! A Golden Potato!”

Matter of fact, that’s what they decided to call it.

And the sales rep had even more good news. In an attempt to help out during the Great Depression, the Simplot Potato Growers had cut their price. You could now get five pounds of potatoes for three cents.

Everybody had one thing on their mind: how do we get more potatoes?

The Golden Potatoes would obviously make a great side for the moose steaks and the braised venison—so it wasn’t like they weren’t gonna get used.

So everybody gathered all their pennies and wrote a letter to Simplot Potato Company, requesting a shipment.

Joni didn’t want to get left out, but she wanted to make sure her potatoes were separate from those of the rest of the order, so as not to get things confused when she found gold in one of the potatoes.

One ounce of gold was enough money to last the average person for nearly two years. How wonderful it would be to not have to shovel snow through a pair of winters!

Joni asked Darson and Cummings how she might be able to order her potatoes and keep them separate from the ones being delivered to the camp by the company.

“I don’t know,” said Darson curtly.

That’s the way Darson was. He began every conversation like he was ready to spit into the snow. Then he began to sweeten up as he talked.

Cummings was a little bit nicer—he actually did the opposite of Darson. He started off talking reasonably nice, and by the end turned as sour as a pickle.

Joni had learned to ask most of her questions when the pair of gents landed about in the middle.

Cummings objected. “Why do you want to separate off your potatoes from the others? What a selfish thing to do. You mean if you find gold in your potato, you’re not gonna share it with me, after all I’ve done for you?”

Darson interrupted. “What have you done for her?”

Cummings was offended. “What do you mean, what have I done for her? The little bother-bug is an orphan and I’ve never made her feel like she’s not wanted even though her parents left and haven’t come back.”

Darson shook his head. “Isn’t that what you just did?”

Cummings scratched his beard. “She knows what I mean.” He looked at Joni. “Don’t you?”

Joni smiled, shook her head and returned to her question. “How can I keep my potatoes separate from the mass of potatoes?”

Cummings suddenly had an idea. “Well, I suppose you could order them later than the others. Then they would come separate—but also, you’d be waiting and maybe the shipment that came to the town folk would be filled with gold and you’d be left out.”

Joni did not like that at all.

Darson spoke up again. “Can we all agree that potatoes without gold in them taste mighty good and are well worth purchasing, especially if you can get some of that good white gravy on ’em?”

Cummings’ eyes sparkled. “I do love me some gravy,” he said. “Gravy is God’s way of apologizing for tasteless food.”

“Amen,” said Darson, staying sweet a little longer than normal.

Joni was still not satisfied. “I make a dime every time it snows,” she said. “Now, figure this out with me. If I took that whole dime, I could buy me about fifteen pounds of potatoes.”

Cummings vigorously shook his head. “I don’t like math problems. I never learned no arithmetic.”

Darson jumped in with his agreement. “I’m with you there, brother. I’ve lived a long time, and honest to God, nothin’ adds up.”

The two men laughed like they were drunk. (Joni knew this because she had seen them that way many times.)

Convinced there was no more need to consult her two companions, she went off by herself to dream about Po-Tay-Gold.

She liked the name. It sounded promising. And since it was almost Christmas, she wanted a few moments of privacy to think about it. So she went to her cot in the back of the cabin and lay down as darkness began to fall, finishing the day.

She fell asleep.

Joni had a dream. It was more than a dream. It was like this really nice-lookin’ young man was standing in front of her, talking right into her face. All he said was, “You’re going to win the gold.”

Joni woke up so thrilled that she wanted to run and find Darson, or Cummings, or anybody, and tell them that God had spoken, and her prosperity was on the way. But it was already dark—not safe to be running around looking for people since it was that time of night when the creatures of the forest ruled over the prairie.

As she lay on her cot, nearly sleepless for most of the night, she decided it was actually a good idea not to say anything about her dream, except maybe to Darson. Well, Cummings, too. Wouldn’t want to leave him out. Maybe she could tell some of the kids while they were shoveling snow. She’d have to be careful. She wouldn’t want an old-fashioned, jealous spirit to fall on her and have people dislike her because she’d been favored.

While Joni lay sleepless, the heavens opened and dumped eight inches of snow all over the world around her. The only problem was, it was the wet kind, not the powder. Wet was more difficult to shovel—made her legs ache and her back creak. But she knew at the end of the day, she’d have her ten cents to order fifteen pounds of potatoes.

Much to her surprise, the potato people from Idaho decided to ship a whole bunch of potatoes in the direction of Sinsear after they heard that their salesperson was received quite well by the folks. So it was only four days later—December 15th—that a big shipment came in on a huge truck.

There were so many potatoes that people could buy more than they’d even ordered.

Inspired, Joni did something she’d never done before. She asked one of the boys who was on the snow-plow team—who usually criticized her for being too slow—if she could borrow a dime from him. (For some reason, he always seemed to have a little more coinage than the rest of the kids.)

He asked what she’d give in return. Joni had no idea what to say. So the boy came right out and told her that if she’d give him a big kiss on the lips, he’d loan her the dime.

Joni had never even thought about kissing. Just like wearing a dress seemed foreign, kissing seemed to be something done on another planet. She always wore Levi’s and her bulky wool sweater. They certainly didn’t make her attractive—at least she didn’t think so. Nobody had ever called her cute, pretty or even reasonably acceptable. Now this boy was willing to use her lips for collateral.

She was ready to say no when he leaned in and grabbed him a kiss anyway. Joni was shocked—offended. Her head was spinning. She wanted to curse but didn’t know the words. The boy just laughed at her, handed over the dime, and said, “You pay me back within two weeks or I get me another one of those.”

She stood, staring at him as he stomped away, giggling. What had just happened?

Yet, she was so proud of herself for being willing to sacrifice for her Po-Tay-Gold that she ran to the truck, which was surrounded by locals. She bought fifteen pounds of potatoes—almost so heavy that she couldn’t carry them. She took them back to her cot in the cabin, found an old knife that the Baron used to whittle wood, and started cutting them open.

She was about nine potatoes in when Darson stuck his head in the door, saw what she was doing and exclaimed, “What in the name of Geronimo’s bones are you doin’, girl?”

Joni didn’t even look up. She just responded, “I’m lookin’ for gold.”

Darson laughed. “But what are you gonna do with the potatoes when you’re done?”

Joni looked down at the carved potatoes and said, “I’ll offer ’em to all the folks and we’ll have a big potato bake.”

Darson nodded approvingly. “That’s good thinkin’. I’ll pass the word.”

By dinnertime Joni had cut open all of her potatoes. There was no gold. She had thought one of them might have gold in it, so she called Cummings in to confirm whether it was gold or not—since she didn’t know what gold looked like. But this particular potato felt moister. But Cummings explained that it was just rotten and seeping out some pukey juice.

Joni had carefully picked it up and threw it to the side, continuing her labor. So much carving, so much hope. No gold.

Matter of fact, other people from Sinsear had spent their early afternoon into the evening doing their own potato inspection. No one found gold.

People were a little bit fussy, but after a fire was built and a rack was constructed for roasting, and when the eating began, people cheered up a little.

Joni was concerned. She realized she couldn’t give up. That angel boy in her vision had told her she was gonna get gold. Why would God tell her a lie? And if He wasn’t a liar, then out there, waiting, was her gold.

After the great potato bake, Joni was ready to head for the cabin. She told Cummings, “I’m gonna keep looking for my Po-Tay-Gold. It’s here. Do you believe with me?”

Cummings didn’t know what to say, but nodded, so Joni ran with all her might to her bed, hoping for a sleep that would give her enough energy to plow the road to buy more potatoes.

Cummings came back to the fire. Darson was sittin’ there, chomping on a particularly well-cooked, yellow potato. Cummings said, “Joni’s bound and determined to find one of those fifty golden potatoes.”

Darson turned and looked at Cummings. “What?” he inquired.

Cummings replied, “You know—she wants to get money—gold.”

Darson laughed and laughed. He laughed so long that Cummings was almost ready to punch him in the snout. Finally calming down, he put his arm around Cummings’ shoulder and said, “Listen, my friend. You do understand, there is no gold in any of the potatoes.”

Cummings jerked back, shocked. “But the salesman told us there were fifty potatoes sent out with gold in them.”

Darson patted Cummings on the leg. “Now, just stop and think about it. How would they get gold inside a potato? They couldn’t cut it open. They couldn’t squeeze it in.”

Cummings looked at him, alarmed. “Are you sayin’ there’s no gold in any of the potatoes?”

Darson shook his head. “Not a nickel.”

“Then they lied?” Cummings shouted, surprised.

Darson hushed him. “Don’t be shoutin’.”

Cummings said, “But we gotta tell people.”

Darson shook his head. “Now, why would we do that? There’s no harm in buyin’ potatoes. They’ll get et. But there is plenty of harm in destroying hope just so you can be right.”

Cummings was mad. “Well, what about Joni? You know we love her.”

Darson frowned. “Well, I certainly feel somethin’ about her. I’m certainly devoted. Yeah, I guess I do love her.”

Cummings said, “Well, what should we do about her?”

Darson took a deep breath. “I wouldn’t do anything. Look at it this way, Cummings. She’s sixteen years old. She’s a girl living in the wilderness. She has to act like a boy, or she’ll be worthless. What should we tell her?”

Cummings stood up and excused himself. He was upset—so upset that he couldn’t sleep. In the middle of the night, he got an idea. When he had graduated from high school many, many years before, somebody had given him a brand-new silver dollar.

So Cummings grabbed a potato and very carefully slit open the side, and with the skill of a craftsman, he found a way to slide the silver dollar into the center of the potato. Then, to keep the slit from being noticeable, he took a little bit of glue from his workbench and smeared it to cover up the incision.

He was so proud of his effort.

The next morning, he told Joni he had found a potato that had apparently fallen out of her stack when she was carrying them in. He handed it to her, who sprouted a dark cloud of disbelief. Cummings encouraged her to cut open this potato.

She did.

There, at the center, was that beautiful, shiny silver dollar.

Joni was thrilled. She jumped up and down, clapped her hands, and started to head out to tell the people in the community. Then she changed her mind, turned back to Cummings and said, “Can you believe this?”

He shook his head, feeling proud that he had come up with such a magnificent idea, to satisfy Joni’s desire.

Before he could speak, as she jumped up and down, Joni exclaimed, “Now, I can order me about one ton—two thousand pounds—of potatoes! I oughta find the gold with that many, don’t you think?”

Cummings didn’t know what to say. It didn’t make any difference, because Joni had already run out the door, with plans for figuring out how to place her huge order.

Cummings stood to his feet, feeling it was his responsibility to track her down and tell her he had placed the silver dollar into the potato. Matter of fact, he was halfway down the street when he stopped in the middle of the road and peered up at the sun, thinking.

If he told her, it could break her heart.

If he didn’t tell her, it could also break her heart.

The only difference was that if he told her now, her heart would be broken immediately. If he waited, she would have a little big longer to be thrilled.

He turned and walked down the street to repair a busted pump. He would remain silent.

For the truth of the matter is, our visions will continue to be dreams as long as we keep believing in them.

Not Long Tales … September 3rd, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

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4.

43

The Great Debate.

As the critics and advocates tumbled and tussled over the issue of gun control, an innovation quietly made its way onto the world stage. It silenced the controversy about guns because it was not considered a weapon. It was touted as beneficial and given a clever, almost cute name: The Blaster.

Privately, for years the American government had been working on a nuclear hand-held device. Though it was initially considered impossible to control a fission reaction held in the human hand, the well-funded research nevertheless persisted, energized by much money.

It was unveiled as a simple climate-friendly way to dispose of waste, clean up after a hurricane or even quickly eliminate unwanted foliage in building of new communities.

It had a companion device called “Clean Boy.” Even though The Blaster itself emitted low-level radiation within the acceptable range of human exposure, Clean Boy was manufactured to make sure that any work done with The Blaster would leave the region free of the fear from radiation sickness.

The Blaster seemed ideal for disposing trash from an area since it only covered a twelve-foot radius, leaving whatever was in its path a pile of ash and dust. As often is the case, for a brief season it was used exactly for what it was conceived to address.

That was, until the Holy City Massacre.

Blasters, which were supposed to be highly regulated and kept out of the hands of criminals or the uninformed were suddenly used at a mass shooting in Jerusalem, killing over four thousand pilgrims and annihilating several of the holy sites.

Of course it was a shock to everyone’s system. But over the years there had been so many mass shootings that no one considered The Blaster, with its nuclear implications, to be that much worse than other atrocities.

What was once considered an American problem had, over the years, been translated into every language and culture. Even though the United States wished to export democracy and freedom, it ended up transporting death and mayhem. So the debate about The Blaster was similar to the arguments over assault weapons.

But there was a man who lived in Winesca, Iowa, named Dylan Cavanaugh. Fifteen years before The Blaster came onto the scene, Dylan and his wife realized that the thirst to kill and the appetite to hear about it on the nightly news was too strong to stop the insanity.

When the ban on assault weapons was lifted, Dylan and his wife journeyed to Wyoming, where they found a parcel of land with a mountain and purchased it, using some inheritance money Dylan had acquired from his mother and father.

The couple set off to change their world. Every summer (and actually, every chance they got to get away) they prepared a way of escape. Even when four daughters arrived, Dylan and his wife, Crenslo (whom he called Crennie) went to Wyoming to their dreamscape and made plans—intricate plans.

Dylan was a licensed electrician, but he also was an inventor. He had manufactured a special battery for an electric minibus which had solar panels in its roof and large storage spaces in the sides. It seated eleven counting the driver.

Shortly after the Holy City Massacre, Dylan gathered his family together and explained his plan. “I do not want to scare you, or maybe I should say I don’t want to scare myself, but because of the atrocity in Jerusalem, it seems to me that half the world is anticipating the wrath of God and the other half is ready to bring it. I’m going to ask you to trust me. For the time being, and for further notice, we are going to our property in Wyoming, which we have prepared as a living space, until I am certain that I can offer you a safe home here in Iowa.”

The girls stared at him in disbelief. Each one had a life in the small Hawkeye town. But Dylan had succeeded, both as a human being and as a father, to build trust with his children. So Clancy, age fifteen, Roberta, thirteen, Sharon, eleven, and Caroline, nine, climbed into the electric minibus and made the journey with their parents to Wyoming. There was sadness, intrigue and just enough distraction along the way from trying various treats at gas stops to keep them engaged and hopeful.

Upon arriving, the young ladies got to see their mother and father’s vision. Carved into the mountain were a series of caves, fully lit and even decorated—enough openings and rooms to house fifty people. On the mountain itself were thousands of solar panels, providing enough energy—especially with Dylan’s new battery technology—to keep them warmed or cooled for months.

They spent the whole first month learning how to shoot a bow and arrow. No guns were allowed, but there was a need to gather food. Dylan had brought a computer, and also a ham radio setup so he could stay in contact with society. Still, the rest of Earth seemed far away from the Wyoming outpost.

About two months in, the Internet disappeared, and the radio went silent. The girls watched as their father cried and their mother joined him. They weren’t certain what the tears were for, but they contributed a few of their own.

At that point, Papa Dylan began going off in the minibus for days at a time. Upon returning, he always had one, two, and once, five people along with him. Each one had a story, each story more terrifying than the one before.

Dylan made his journeys for about six months. He ceased them once he stopped coming back with human folk. All in all, there were 43 people who found refuge in the vision of Dylan and Crennie.

One day, when it was pretty certain who was who and what was what, Dylan made a short speech. “I have not given up on the Earth. But right now, I want to make sure that we don’t give up on each other. I know each one of us saw lots of movies about the Apocalypse and the destruction of the Earth. In those flicks, the survivors always ended up killing each other.” He looked around, then joked, “Maybe it was because they were all zombies.” Everyone laughed. It was good to laugh.

He continued. “There are going to be three jobs in our little home. Those who gather the food, those who cook the food and those who clean up. Each one of us will learn how to do all the jobs. We’ll alternate. There will only be three—well, I guess we can call ’em rules. Love your neighbor, do your work, learn something new every day.”

The other 42 people who had gathered for the little speech smiled, shed a quick tear over loss and then turned to one another and embraced. Dylan found Crennie and kissed her lovingly on the lips.

Clancy, the oldest daughter, looked across the room at a boy named Zach.

She thought he was cute.

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Marching to Zion … April 19, 2013

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Jiffy LubeCan I tell you that I learn much more sitting in a waiting room at Jiffy Lube than I ever do running around doing stuff or kneeling in prayer?

I have nothing against work or piety. It’s just that we occupy this space and time with other human beings, so every once in a while, it’s a good idea to listen to them, enjoy them and fellowship with them instead of merely viewing them as friends or competition. Because in the process of procuring friends, we eliminate other people who don’t make the cut. And if you take too much time eyeballing other people as “competition,” you will soon lose sight of your own abilities and become paranoid about their intentions.

What happened in that Jiffy Lube was that I listened to three people, strangers to one another, having a conversation as they waited for their oil to be revived. It was remarkable. Nearly everything they said, talked about, referred to and mentioned I was familiar with and basically was in agreement. It made me wonder how we ever got to the point that we believe we are all so unique and different from one another–separated on islands by ourselves or entrenched in camps. Apparently there are some nastier individuals in this world who take pleasure and make profit by keeping brothers and sisters, men and women, Republicans and Democrats and religious and non-religious people at odds with each other.

I am going to make a bold statement: I would say that everyone on earth–whether in China, Canada, Argentina, England or Wyoming–share about 85% of common values and likes. How about that? That means that more than eight out of ten things in the human family would be agreeable to us all. So why do we spend time focusing on the two things that might cause conflict? It’s mainly because we insist on establishing our value based upon our uniqueness.

Not me. I was so blessed by the experience of realizing that I am part of a much larger clan of Homo sapiens than I thought, that I walked out of that Jiffy Lube whistling (even though they charged me too much for an air filter).

And as I climb into my van today and head over to Fredericksburg, Texas, to a place called Zion Lutheran, my mind drifts to the idea that the word “Zion,” although usually referring to Israel or Jerusalem, is also defined as “a harmonious community.”

We really DO live in Zion. If 85% of what we feel and think is common to us all, then we have much more reason to march towards Zion–a place of unity–than we ever do to trudge off into the desert alone.

In that spirit, I will go to this community tonight and celebrate that 85%. After all, the 15% of disagreement always has something to do with religion, politics or our particular taste and preference in entertainment and food products.

I guess if I just stay away from those topics, I can “march to Zion” … and have a truly harmonious experience.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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