A Murdered Meal – A Short Story


chickens 2014It was a perfect meal.

Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh-from-the-garden green beans with melted butter, right-off-the-stalk corn on the cob, homemade wheat bread, and apple pie for dessert. Hmmm.

Martha and me have been cooking together for well nigh over forty years now. Married young by today’s standards, we’ve stuck together through thick and thin. Good, home cooked meals have helped us along when precious little else did.

This particular meal made me more grateful than ever for her presence and comfort. I’ve become a stranger in this world. If it weren’t for Martha, I’d have given up.

They were a young couple, thirty-something, wearing tailored clothes and toting along the designated two kids, girls, seven and ten. The whole family exuded bubbly charm while freely sprinkling their opinions over pretty much everything.  Martha and I don’t entertain often, but Jeffery labored as a freelance writer for some kind of on-line food forum. He’d heard about our humble, country-style life and was looking for a story. I figured, why not? What harm could be done? Martha tells me I’m clueless. Guess she’s right.

We’re not Amish; we just live close to the land. A fair sized garden, chickens, bees, and a milk cow keep us plenty busy.  Since the kids grew up and away, we don’t need much.

Jeffery’s wife, Celeste, steered her husband into the kitchen with little effort. The kids trailed along behind. Celeste “oohed and aahed” over the hanging herbs, while Jeffery, with wide eyes, took in our native scene, mouth hanging open, like a man encountering the back woods for the first time. He glanced at Celeste nearly every time he spoke. Asking permission, I suppose. Celeste seemed inclined to allow him a modicum of freedom, even in the wilds of rural Illinois.

Martha spread the table in grand style. Everyone dug in with relish. Well, almost everyone. The seven year old touched and fingered and squished her way across the landscape of her plate. The ten year old, a plumper version of Celeste, had such no inhibitions about the provender. Soon, a stack of clean bones lay on one side while a second slice of apple pie lay on the other.

Before long, Jeffery pushed back his demolished plate, wiped his lips, and leaned in with a gleaming smile.

“So, how do you do it?” His happy, glazed expression begged more than his words.

I smiled. Martha, gathering a few of the dishes, suppressed a proud smile. I leaned back, glad to have an interested audience. Few people care to listen to an old man’s success stories.

“Well, Martha, she raises ’em. We feed ’em well and put them on fresh grass  at the first opportunity. When they’re fattened out, we call in our grandkids, and the whole family gets involved. The eldest boy, he gets the ax, while the—”

A strangled gasp alerted me to trouble. Celeste’s hand darted up protectively near the ten year old. A spiked glare informed Jeffery of some tender concern. The ten year old had nearly consumed her pie. Unaware and completely unconcerned.

Celeste’s voice quivered with the dramatic moment. “I haven’t told them…that you killed your chickens.”

My mind froze. My gaze rolled over to Martha who stood with the potato dish in one arm, waiting, I suppose, for something that made sense.

Jeffery stiffened, his eyes staring straight ahead, like a man about to be shot.

It was up to me. “Yes, we generally kill our chickens before we eat them.”

Celeste’s hand rose higher, anguish marring her features. Her voice lowered in desperation. “But she doesn’t know you kill them.”

I swallowed. Yes, I’d swung the ax on numerous occasions, and I taught my grandsons how to do the job quickly and efficiently. I had never felt accused by that knowledge before.

“It has to be done. Food has to be killed—”

“But they’re living beings…like us.”

I sighed and folded my hands in prayer. There was no delicate way to put this. “Don’t think so. You’re talking with us and digesting them.”

I guess, I’m not surprised that the dinner came to a quick end at that point. Can’t say I was sorry, either.

Am I committing an atrocity when I swing my ax? Is Martha a butcher when she plucks, peels, and chops apples for pie?  Strange world we live in now. What will those girls feel when they discover that their bellies are full of murdered food? Hard to live with yourself when you think like that.

After the dishes were washed and put away, Martha and I sat in the living room by the wood stove. I reached for her hand. She is such a comfort. An honest comfort. Even after a murdered meal.

The Adventures of Tally-Ho

Tally Ho spread 1_smWhile my husband was alive, we came up with a great idea to write a story based on the wonder of raising our kids in the country.  It seemed so right, like an apostolate. We knew we had been blessed in a mighty way, and that God had guided us to our little place and helped us to learn the amazing skills needed to garden and manage a mini-farm.  John took to homesteading like a fish to water.  Other homeschool dads used to call him “Our Amish Paul Bunyan.” So, it felt natural to share our joy and success with others. I wrote stories based on what we did everyday: meals, working our little garden, nurturing nature, loving kids… loving God. John was going to create the illustrations since he had a wonderful knack for drawing.  Except he couldn’t.  Leukemia intervened and that success was put off…forever it seemed.

After he passed away, I kept feeling tugged to see our project through to completion.  But how?  Well… God has ways. I’m not sure if John was whispering in anyone’s ear, but somehow or another I met up with a wonderful illustrator who knew exactly what we had imagined. She put her talents to work and the story unfolded, better than I had imagined. It’s just been published under the title: The Adventures of Tally-Ho. Tally-Ho was what John called our fourth daughter because she loved to gallop around the house on her imaginary horse. How we used to laugh about that.  What a wonder imagination brings to life!

As I state in the dedication to the story, John’s love made the stories true.  His vision is what made our real life family possible.  As I contemplate the finished product, I wonder what God will do with this little book.  Surely He has a plan. I very much doubt that it has anything to do with making money.  I pray it has something to do with loving families.

I am studying Creative Writing for Entertainment in a Masters Program and I feel like I have been assaulted by the weirdness of our entertainment world.  God have mercy on our souls for what we place in front of children as humorous or serious drama. There are wonderful writers out there – may God give them strength!

So Tally-Ho, like a newborn, has been placed on the amazingly huge Amazon shelf with some pretty odd stuff. I pray that it will be a light and joy to someone’s soul.  Perhaps it will be a vision of what might be…a hope, a dream, a longing that yearns to be fulfilled. Real dreams don’t die…they grow.

I think John would agree.

The Adventures of Tally-Ho

Consecration to a Loving Life

Clare and DianaIt happened again.  A strange dog showed up, fought for a place in our canine society, won a position in our hearts and eventfully was claimed by owners who took him home. But probably not to stay. He’ll be back. For several years running we have been the beneficiaries of other people’s unwanted or un-cared for animals.  Some people simply drop them off and let nature take its course.  Since we are soft-hearted, we generally allow the animals to find their place among our menagerie and life moves on.  When the older generation passes on, I never worry about replacement.  I know new life will find us.

Why are so many animals attracted to this four acres of land?  I suspect for the same reason that dogs have been known to break free of every cage their owners can devise in order to return here.  They love to be in friendly society. They discover that they can make inroads into our heats and thus they’ll return again and again. The yearning hope for a loving home is irresistible.

In reading an article about the consecrated life in the Springfield, IL Catholic Times this week, I read something which clarified the issue for me.  Bishop Paprocki quoted in his article Consecrated life: means by which the Holy Spirit builds up church an article written by William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal, in which sister Bethany reflects that they have “the security of knowing that they are loved…” by God, by their community as well as by their family. The Bishop reflects on McGurin’s interest in the consecrated life.  He expounds on the theme by thanking the men and women who have dedicated their lives to a consecrated expression of love toward God and their fellow human beings.

Why do people have an attraction to consecrated life?  Why do people strive to connect in this way?  What makes dogs traverse danger and distance to find a place in someone else’s home?  Animals, like people, are looking for security and a sense that they belong. We are looking to be loved.  But I suspect, even more, we are looking for people to love. You’d think that would be easy.  But in this world, not so much.  Loving involves tremendous risk.  It involves intimacy and trust.  Many people look to be loved without realizing that what they really want is a safe person to love.

I can’t accept every animal that comes for a visit.  Certain critters have to be openly discouraged from hanging around. Rats and skunks I can’t trust.  But more often than not, I am flattered that animals show up, year after year, discovering a place they can love and be loved. And I, in turn, discover that I love isn’t a limited commodity.  There is enough to go around.

Perhaps I haven’t joined a consecrated order in name, but I’d say that I that by loving God, consecration to a loving life comes naturally.

A Change of Perspective

Apple harvest 2015Today’s Gospel reading was the parable about the talents and the sin of omission, so when the boys brought in buckets and buckets of apples this morning, I could hardly ignore them.  It would have been a sin to waste so much good fruit, even if they aren’t the prettiest apples in the world.  They are the ones that grow on my trees, the gifts that God has given us this year, and though I had a long to-do list, I shoved everything aside to work on those apples.

I found myself working alone at first, but as I assigned jobs and the kids found their peelers and slicers and sat down to work, they also found their humor.  It was not long before an “I-don’t-have-time-for-this” silence was replaced with, “Remember when we…”

Since I was the senior cook in charge of the canning, I had to make sure the apples were spiced with sugar and cinnamon before going into the hot jars and then into the even hotter boiling bath. In the midst of all this, a water filter had to be changed and a couple band-aides applied, but I found myself listening to the kids reminiscing about other family-fun activities, some of which I had never known about… And I realized that life really is what happens when you are planning other things.  It is in accomplishing the jobs at hand that create the warmest memories.

When we first moved out here nearly twenty years ago, I used to listen to the farmers’ wives talk about the 20 quarts of jam they put up or the 4000 pints they froze. At the time I was rather underwhelmed by their accomplishments simply because I was so blatantly ignorant of how much work it took to put up a measly seven jars of anything.  Now I know better.  I also understand why they smiled when they reminisced.  They weren’t just proud of their accomplishments; they had enjoyed the time with family, the stories swapped, the jokes played on each other.  I can envision what it was like because we have repeated the process several times now.

Perhaps, at first, it does seem like just another big job and I have to hand out paring knives like a Drill Sargent, but after a bit, those talents which seemed like a burden, quickly repay the effort.  The kids and I have a change of perspective and perhaps a change of heart too. Life is in the little moments.

Apple pie anyone?

Heaven and Hell

Cat and kittenMama cat with her four adorable kittens has taken serious offense at Red Hen’s incursions into their food bowl.  While I watch the unfolding power-struggle, I have to smile at the innocence of animals struggling for their place in the world and attempting to protect their own. I can solve the problem with a broom, ushering Red-Hen back toward the chicken yard and calming the cat with a few soft words. Tragically, the larger world cannot be so easily appeased.

Lately I have read several furious posts by people justifiably outraged about Planned Parenthood’s assaults on humanity and the world’s apparent lack of concern.  I am outraged too.  Yet I also live in a society that has some good in it.  I feel like I am living in a duality – a heaven and hell reality.  Some how we have managed to make a pretty good living while slaughtering millions. Some how we have managed to acquire a high standard of living while racking up unpayable debts. Some how we have managed to secure technological and scientific advancement while losing touch with our families and our better selves.

IMG_0273 (2)Blagobear in the flowersWhen I pondered what to write about this morning, I considered all the beauty in my little world: the late summer flowers coming into bloom, the antics of young animals at play, the enticing challenge of teaching young minds to read and write, the adventure of new recipes, and how my third daughter made the most delicious “sand-cookies” and how she almost convinced the little ones that she really did use sand.  All these are worthy topics, but how can I justify my public time and attention on the good and the beautiful, while tragic and terrible reality exists along side, creeping up behind?

After many years dealing with loved ones who suffered from various addictions, I finally came to accept that I needed help – along with them.  I went to a few Al-anon meetings and discovered there what my faith had taught me all along.  I am not alone and I am not here to fix the world, I am here to love the world. But love does not mean to enable the wicked and wrong to conquer the good and the beautiful.  Sometimes brooms are necessary to move an incurring hen to her rightful place.  Sometimes videos are necessary to expose the horrors of genocide. Sometimes we should be outraged.

We live in a world incorporating elements of both heaven and hell. It seems to me, it is best to appreciate the one while holding back the other.  Ignoring either is to invite insanity and spiritual death. While I’d like to make Red-Hen understand her place, I know she will try again, as will Possum and many other wild folks of the woods.  But I keep my broom handy and enjoy the late blooms anyway.


Living the Adventure

sunsetAs the hot sun beats down upon us, lush 9 foot corn stalks breathe out their earthy, green scent, and humongous humidity make me wonder if rural Illinois should be called the biggest-corn-growing-jungle-of-the-world, I am trying to wrap my mind around the fact that a new school year and all of winter’s thrills stands just before us.  We best be ready.

This year I will have one in college, three in high school, and four kids in grades 7th through 2nd. I’ll also be taking some classes myself. Might as well live the adventure.  As my husband would say each time he took the boys out for a driving lesson, “No guts, no glory.” Not the advice I would give, but I knew what he meant.  He certainly lived to the fullest extent possible before death took him where I cannot yet follow.

I am looking forward to the challenges of teaching various grade levels, encouraging my eldest to maintain his A average in college, helping my second son discover which university he would like to attend and what degree he might like to pursue.  I love teaching reading to young minds just awakening to the power of the written word.  I am inspired by the beauty of art and it’s application in the home. My spirits rise when my kids practice their musical instruments, and we all learn from history, attempting to come to some greater understanding of our present times.  Even basic math and its cousin Algebra encourage our brain cells onto feats of learning, discovering new wonders of our world.

I am grateful for all that God has placed within my reach to love, admire, and assist.  I can be of service and I can grow, nourished by the reality that much of life is what we make of it.  Trials, challenges, and tribulations will always be a part of the human experience, but I am most content when I face them with a spirit of love and hope.

There is much to grieve in this world and through prayer we can be reconciled to our sorrows.  Yet sorrows and our weakest selves must not define us. There is an adventure in living, no matter how hot the sun or how encroaching the vegetation.  Truly, living the adventure means seeing the quest in our own lives.


The Adventures of Tally-Ho

Tally Ho spread 1_sm

The Adventures of Tally-Ho written by A.K. Frailey, author of The Road Goes Ever On – A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings, The Deliverance Trilogy and Georgios I & Geogios II, and Illustrated by Chris deShazo owner of Spectrum Graphics Studio, is due out this autumn.  The cover reveal is coming soon…

What little girls love: faith, family, fun, little critters, and adventure!

Wholesome family-farm adventures, big brothers, helpful sisters, kittens and a lively possum…A great read aloud for the whole family. Gorgeous illustrations!

Grandma & Grandpas will love this holiday gift – a book to enjoy the whole year through!

Mom’s and Dads looking for something to share with their little ones?  Here’s a wholesome family story including home-school adventures, delicious home-cooked meals, humorous treks through the woods, and family prayer time  – all reflecting a sincere love of nature… A great read-aloud!

Attention: Big brothers and sisters! A wonderful way to spend an afternoon with the family.

Celebrate the extraordinary-ordinary of faith-filled family fun!

Raising kids – God’s way – with nature’s wisdom. Stewardship & love for life: The Adventures of Tally-Ho.

The Adventures of Tally-Ho really began when my 4th daughter ran into the kitchen yelling “Tally-Ho!”  She was having a wonderful adventure on an imaginary horse and my husband and I just smiled at each other in reflection of her joy. As we discussed the kids’ wonderful imaginations growing up on our mini-farm in rural Illinois, we considered how different their lives have been from our own. We had both been raised in cities, far from the natural wonders our children encounter on a daily basis. As my daughter came through again, encouraging her horse onto more  adventures, it occurred to us that we could share a bit of what our kids experience through a story with illustrations to match. I was the writer of the family, so I set to work on a basic story line while my husband began to work on sketches.

But as sometimes happens even with the best of dreams, our plans were thwarted when my husband was diagnosed with Leukemia.  We endured a four year battle with cancer before he died.  For some time I could not pick up the threads of our Tally-Ho project, but then I encountered a wonderful artist, Chris deSharzo of Spectrum Graphics Studios, who could grace the story with the same zest for life that John had known. I prayed about it and after sensing a rightness about moving on, the project was picked up.  And so, The Adventures of Tally-Ho has been given a second chance.

The grace of my husband’s life reflected a sincere love for all of humanity especially in children and nature.  May that same love be offered to you through The Adventures of Tally-Ho.