Each of us can relate somehow, some way, to a cold winter morning. Well, perhaps most of us. Yet a few of us have such a gift they can relate to others their own experiences with cold and winter mornings (poets and storytellers especially).

I have read of soldiers in Alaska, in Moscow, in the Ardennes, in Afghanistan: cold winter mornings that I have no concept of or experiences with. War is not kind. . . .

My cold life in Chicago had me in -18 degrees one winter night. My cold life in Minnesota had me at -16 degrees one Christmas: “way below zero.” The nose hairs froze. Not fun for sledding or the toboggan. Dressed for school? Watch A Christmas Story: see Ralphie’s brother waddle off to school. (And don’t forget that tongue frozen to the flag pole.)

A CHRISTMAS STORY  huffington post

Cold Walk in A Christmas Story (Huffington Post)

House cats do not have to go out for a walk on cold winter mornings. Most dogs are accustomed to morning walks, cold winter morning or not. I had to walk the dog: “Hurry up! I am freezing out here (in a Chicago alley in the early grey cold winter morning)!”

On some cold winter mornings, Jim Miller, my friend and high school classmate, and I arrived early a few times a week during our senior year at our seminary. We were chosen to sing the liturgical responses for morning Mass, at seven. Cold, stone-walled chapel, cold vocal cords, and a chapel organ that was temperamental when the bellows were cold.


Saint James’s Chapel

On cold winter mornings, along city streets, steam could be seen coming from that small hole in manhole covers–or steamy exhaust from city buses, and from cars.

cold cleveland steam.

Winter’s Steam (www.

So, those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere will soon have those cold winter mornings–or already have had a taste of winter. As sure as the sun rises and the sun sets, winter arrives. And cold-weather records will, no doubt, be set in the U.S. and in Europe–again).

One April, with spring approaching, April 4-6, 1968, some teaching colleagues and I were attending a conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A guest speaker was a poet named Robert Hayden. He received a gracious introduction and a warm audience-reception. I was there; I knew little of him, about his work.

He read a poem. He began another–but could not continue. He said, “. . . ,” then began to cry. He left the stage.

April 4 Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot dead at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots erupt in major American cities, lasting for several days afterwards. Minneapolis was not spared.

We were dismissed. Our conference was over, cut short.

(In 1940, Hayden published poems that drew little attention. Yet by 1976 he was well respected enough to be Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the U.S. Poet Laureate. He died in 1980, age 66.)

Although I had little acquaintance with the works of that poet, I would forever always have that memory of him in Minneapolis. So that was that.

Until about ten years ago. In an introduction to literature program. There was a poem of his, about cold Sunday mornings, a poem about a son remembering his father.

My memories of a time–or times–came across to me in such a personal way, as I am certain other readers could recollect similar remembrances. Those memories of a love and actions are not always known nor understood by us when we are young-er. That is all.

“What did I know, what did I know…?” So I took out the dog. So I walked my brother to school. So I got groceries for the invalid woman down the street. So I shoveled the neighbor’s walk. So my dad made oatmeal for us on cold mornings. So my dad walked miles in the deep snow to get a bus or a train to get to work. And me?

“What did I know, what did I know // of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Robert Hayden: “Those Winter Sundays” [1962]

“Those Winter Sundays” is a not-too-simplistic poem of age-brought discovery of what others do for us. But we don’t appreciate. However, this little “masterpiece” is about doing-in and remembering-about the cold. Those cold winter mornings.

©  James F. O’Neil 2014

* * *

Collected Poems: Robert Hayden. Ed. F. Glaysher. New York: Liveright, 1985; rpt. 1996.

Words in the Mourning Time: Poems by Robert Hayden. London: October House, 1970.

Robert Hayden American Poets Stamp



My brother Denis recently asked me for a copy of a handout I used in my writing classes: “The 3-8 Paragraph.”

In my memories of a time many years ago, my friend and colleague, Walt, gave me a handout called “The 3-8 Paragraph Method for Writing.” I was not as overly enthusiastic about using it as he was; he explained it was something he had used in teaching for some years. And he had gotten it from someone else during a long-time-ago workshop.

This method shows a simple way for writers to get started working on a topic, especially memories of a time–bringing about “the thrill of mining one’s own experiences,” as Jeff, a former student of mine, described it.

I found it to be a gem in my writing programs, after using it for a while. Since that time ago, I had been using this handout as one of the best pass‑and‑share/show‑and‑tell items I have ever received. I have given workshops describing how to use it, taught it, and shared it with colleagues. (Some might know it now as a method to help develop the so-called “essay map.”)

And so much for that.

However, my remembering now the times I have used the method makes me want to share the most essential element in the process, the keystone: having the concept of “three” or “3” or “threesies.”

This might seem too easy. And it is. And that is all I am going to say about that. Well, not really.

How much does “three” play in a life? What should I know about “3,” other than it comes after 2 and before 4? But wasn’t that a difficult thing to do, counting as a very young child, as you think back on it?

This is not about numerology–but it could be: the study of the use and power of numbers. Though I want it not to be “occult” or “cult-ish.” But think and remember what you might know about this number and its effect upon your life–or what memories you have about something “three.”

Maybe, “Once upon a time, there were three bears….” Why three?

“And now, Earth, Wind & Fire!” (though the classical elements add the 4th, water)

1st, 2nd, and 3rd place… (blue, red, and yellow [white for 4th place])

“Three men on a match”: That is “bad luck.”

Picture this: In the wind, a soldier during World War I lights a match, at night or in the dark, cupping his hand to prevent the wind from putting out the match. Then the cigarette is lighted. He shares the flame with a 2nd soldier. Then a 3rd soldier attempts to use the fading fire. He is the dead man, shot by an enemy sniper who has been alerted by the first light, takes aim on the 2nd, and knows there will be a 3rd.  Bad luck.

That is how I learned it.

In the novel As Time Goes By (by Michael Walsh, 1998), Rick Blaine shares a light with a friend. Reading that, I at once thought of the three-men-on-a-match anecdote. It happens that way with me.

Between 1490 and 1510, Hieronymus Bosch painted Garden of Earthly Delights, the modern title given to a triptych.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch

The Bosch Garden

What is a “triptych painting”? It is a work of art divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. A trifold, three-sectioned something. Like a trifold wallet, or greeting card.

And then, remember “Two’s company, three’s a crowd”? Not as dramatic as the match story, but it could be, for some, a serious “threesome” relationship–or a stage of growing up. Just think of how many times you were the “odd man out,” the “third wheel.” Growing up, did you have fun as a “trio”? Or was it ever a “love triangle” (in French, ménage à trois).

Triangle: “… and the hypotenuse of a right triangle is….” Let’s think about that baseball field and see, not three bases but two triangles abutting one another across the mound in the middle. And see the 127 feet from first to third. Hypotenuse. Geometry. Tenth (10th) grade for some. Oh, that throw from third to second to first? That’s known as a “triple play.” That’s a baseball rarity.

Triple, as in “triple-crown winner.” Or the “trifecta.”

What gives me pleasure? “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, thou.” Yup, another “threesie,”

In The Little Mermaid look carefully at the “trident” that King Triton (“tri-”) carries.

King Triton wiki

King Triton (Credit: Wikipedia)

 Or remember the Times Table of Three: that “three times three equals __.”

Finally (though this is by no means the last word on threesies), the poet John Milton wrote Paradise Lost, the massive poem about the massive battle about good angels, bad angels, and man. And God. The places were Milton’s poetic descriptions of mythic threesies: heaven, earth, hell.

Milton’s Universe

Though his poem was written “way back when” (1674?), even today writers ask (and answer in science fiction, fantasy, or pop literature), “What is the tripartite cosmology common to many foundation myths?” Outer darkness, earth, and some sort of heaven.

You will not look at three (3) the same way again…

 © James F. O’Neil 2014

The Three Stooges (as found in Wikipedia)

The Three Stooges (as found in Wikipedia)



Looking out from my vacation cottage porch (at 8:20 a.m.), I could see across the small lake–and could see the red lights flashing, the stopped yellow school bus, and three or four little children climbing the steps into the bus.

When I first saw what was happening, the pseudo-Latin poem popped into my head. It always seems to happen that way, as my mind drifts at the word “buses” (or the less prevalent “busses”):

O Sybilli, si ergo,
Fortibus es in ero.
O nobili, demis trux:
Sevatis enim? Causen dux!

O see Billy, See ‘er go!
Forty buses in a row.
O no, Billy, dem is trucks.
See what is in ‘em? Cows an’ Ducks!

It makes no sense in Latin. Just some silliness from high school that has been etched into my memory, and consciousness.

“O Sibili si ergo, fortibuses in ero. Nobili demis trux: sewatis enim? Cowsendux!”

School buses. In a row.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Row of Buses…

What is there about a yellow bus, flashing red lights, children entering/exiting a school bus? And, What is “school bus yellow”?

School BusSchool Bus (Front View)

“Yellow was adopted as a standard color for North American school buses beginning in 1939, the adoption of a standard shade of paint. The color, which became known as “school bus yellow,” was selected because black lettering on that specific hue was easiest to see in the semi-darkness of early morning and late afternoon. Today the color is known as “National School Bus Glossy Yellow.” [Wikipedia]

When I was growing up in Chicago, I never rode a school bus. In the City, my sister, one smaller brother, and I walked to grammar school–six or eight city blocks.

My transportation to high school (a private Catholic school) was the CTA: Chicago Transit Authority.

cta by sullivan

CTA by Sullivan

I rode a city bus from 55th and Halstead to 63rd, then transferred for a long ride on the “L” (The Chicago ‘L': sometimes written as “L” or “el,” short for “elevated.”), behind apartments’ back stairs or fire escapes–landings leading to second- and third-floor porches filled with toys and old ice boxes, or “stuff.” Past the buildings, then down, through and under downtown Chicago as the “L” went “subway.” I exited at Chicago and State streets, and walked a few blocks to school. For four years, I followed these routes, carrying a book bag. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of early winter night prevented me from completion of my high school diploma.

Chicago ElevatedCTA EL

However, no school bus experience.

During graduate schooling in Minnesota, my taking courses in school administration, I learned about transporting students, planning bus routes, buying and selling of buses, transportation obligations of school boards, and school bus safety.

My own kids first rode school buses where I became high school principal. Here I was better educated about snow days, closing school early because of storms coming, and athletes traveling on buses to their events.

But it was in the southwest outback of the state, when I served as school superintendent from 1976-1980, that I became most knowledgeable in school bus “stuff.”

(In 1980, there were six major school bus body manufacturers producing full-size school buses in North America: Blue Bird Body Company; Carpenter Body Works; Superior Coach Company; Thomas Built Buses, Inc.; Wayne Corporation; and Ward Body Works. Today only three exist: Thomas, IC [Integrated Coach], and Blue Bird. [Wikipedia])

IC  L50 BusIC Integrated Coach Bus

Those four years have allowed memories to come to mind when I do see a school bus (or “busses”) on the road or street or highway. Most memories are good and pleasant.

Nervousness on my part came during bus inspection done by the Highway Patrol. The drivers and I awaited the results. I was ultimately accountable for the buses. I made sure the drivers took good care of their buses, knew their routes and their riders, and had me along sometimes as a rider so I could know as much as I could about the driving process.

Winter brought most activity with the drivers and me. I was responsible for school closings. I had to know the weather from one end of the district to another. I drove the school car in early morning “to check the roads.” I was in contact with neighboring school administrators and radio stations to help me make a decision.

And athletic events being cancelled and rescheduled? Could the buses travel safely? Sometimes there were tense times, awaiting the arrival of a bus of cheerleaders and athletes after a night game during the winter season. Even though the buses returned safely, but very late, the roads and heavy snow kept the students in town for an overnight at designated homes.

Yet I DO remember riding a bus route, with the snow plowed and moved so that it WAS over the height of the bus! High flags on every bus so they could be seen. Exciting!

[Colorado]  Snow Drift by dailycamera. com

[Colorado] Snow Drift by dailycamera. com

In spring, creeks rose and bridges sagged. I had to determine weights of gasoline, buses-over-bridges routes, and re-routing students to long driveways or distant farm homes.

Then the buying and bidding process, almost like expecting a baby: Who has the bid? Who will provide the chassis, and the body? Such a small district with six or seven buses, yet the bidding process was the same in all districts, whether buying one bus or three or more. (I made sure the buses were painted with high numbers so observers might consider our district larger than it was. Fun.)

I even drove a school bus! On US Highway 71, I steered the bus to another town, to have new tires installed. I was told that superintendents had emergency powers, allowing them to drive buses. (I never did check into that….) But what a time I had at the wheel of a Blue Bird Bus with a Chevrolet engine, or my favorite Thomas with an International Harvester powertrain. (IH was an early manufacturer of medium/heavy duty trucks. Although based upon truck chassis, IH also became the leading manufacturer of the chassis portion of body-on-chassis conventional [type C] school buses. Wikipedia)

Yet of all those memories of a time in Minnesota, a high point had to be the personal tour of the Blue Bird bus factory, then in Mount Pleasant, Iowa [1962-2002]. While on the way to a Florida vacation, we made a special arranged visit. We saw the assembly line, and how it worked. We watched the uniting of body with chassis. We walked inside an incomplete body, with bundles of wires and harnesses being installed. Ladies were working in the factory, sitting at large sewing machines, making covers for the bus seats.

I never knew before then how all the parts came together, to become a unified bus, to be delivered to a school district, the result of a bidding process that I had come to know and was part of.

So. One can see this story isn’t about an exciting Lamborghini,

Lamborghini by UK Telegraph

Lamborghini by UK Telegraph

or a Lear jet, or even about the building of a John Deere tractor.

John Deere Tractor by Restoration Project

John Deere Tractor by Restoration Project

It’s simply about a school bus. Or riding a school bus. Simple.

Yet I am certain that any reader who was a rider is now filled with School Bus Yellow Memories.

© James F. O’Neil 2014

BLUE BIRD BUS by purplewave. com

BLUE BIRD BUS by purplewave. com










James F. O'Neil:

My hard drive of 4TB…terror bytes…is waiting for release: writing and expanding those memoir-ish anecdotes that have gathered cyber-dust. When do I have time? I am retired. There is no time, it seems. So, maybe two stories a month? That works now. I used to tell my writing students: “If you live to 18, you will have enough to write about for the rest of your life.” My “philosophy” has not yet changed.

See my Door Story

Originally posted on Carter Library:

Here’s the thing.  I’ve stopped blogging, I just didn’t know it yet.

I have files on this computer titled:  Thoughts on Ferguson, Disorganized Religion, Skinny, Ray Rice, On God or The Lack Thereof, The Subtext of Texting, etc….  All subjects that set my hair on fire and that I’m writing about.  Just not publicly.  Which means, not here. 

closed-doors-1400451-mIt’s like that Joan Didion saying, “I write to know what I think,” except that I’ve learned I need way more time and space, and a closed door, to know what I think.

I started this blog almost 5 years ago so I could write with immediacy without writing for real.  Like a warm up.  Like practice.  But these days I’m writing everything for real which explains all of those tucked away and titled computer files, not yet fully cooked. Which also explains why this blog has bogged down. I look back through my…

View original 94 more words


Vacation: vacation refers to recreation, a get away from day-to-day chores to devote time specifically for relaxation; it can be ritual, annually around the same time, or it can be a one-time event [going to Paris for a wedding anniversary, for example]. It is a holiday…

Is summer really over? Perhaps so, if one goes to a public library recently to see posters similar to this: “Summer Reading Program a Success.”

In agrarian America, most family vacations occur during the summer, while the crops are growing and time for getting away is possible. School is out, often near the end of June, to include July and most of August. Some school districts begin “fall” classes in early August; some wait until after Labor Day.

In the UK, school days often begin in early September, with calendars for holidays similar to those in the US: Christmas and Easter, and Spring Breaks.

However, there is something about vacation-time: summer reading programs, mobile libraries in small-towns, Minnesota. For many, summer is the time for reading. Probably because required readings of books and chapters and notes do not exist. It is Summer Reading Time.

Summer Reading Southern Pines, NC

Southern Pines, NC

I am a reader. Summer or not. But summer was really the time I enjoyed for choosing activities for myself. And choosing the books I wanted to read, liked to read (though I did receive a summer-reading list at the end of the school year. Nevertheless, I could still choose from the lists and lists.).

For the past nine summers, I have had a “vacation”: a retirement of sorts. But I lived and loved and enjoyed the local library. (Barnesville Hutton Memorial Public Library is affiliated with the library system that serves Barnesville, Ohio. The collection of the library contains some 74,000 volumes; the library serves a population of more than 7800 residents.)

Barnesville, Ohio

Barnesville, Ohio

What occurred to me of late was how much more time I spent on vacation–and in the library–than I did use the local library when I was at home. This is like being back in school: vacation-time reading, summer-time reading programs.

And I love libraries in the summer.

“See Spot. See him run. Run, Spot, run.”

Pic: Sharondegaard


That was early elementary reading, and it was “elementary.” And so it goes/went. Then I discovered Ogden Park Library, on the South Side of Chicago. Along with the summer Park Rec rec program (swimming, weaving, and that stuff), there existed the park library: That was the center of my summer life, riding there from home or swimming class, exploring the shelves, checking out books. Checking out books. Checking out books. Heaven.

 Postcard Pic: Chuckman's

Postcard Pic: Chuckman’s

Other libraries that sucked me in, tasted me, chewed me up, digested me–those Francis Bacon’s books he wrote about– I remember so well, in summer, doing research, walking the stacks (something not often allowed now in many larger libraries), checking out books–or simply just losing myself at a table, surrounded with books.

Chicago’s Newberry Public Library:

Newberry Pic: Wikipedia

Newberry Pic: Wikipedia

Chicago Public Library [old building on Michigan Boulevard]:

Old Public Library

Old Public Library

I had a bicycle stolen in Ogden Park in front of the library. In such a hurry to drop off books so they would not be over-due, I did not chain up the bike. In that short in-and-out time, my bike was stolen; it was recovered and returned to me (most of it) a year later. What a sad library memory.

Lost Bicycle

Gone Bicycle

I worked in my high school library (mostly dusting shelves–though I have a good yearbook picture of me in the stacks); I worked in my college library (mostly dusting shelves and books). Yet I wrote graduate papers (for Milton and Shakespeare courses) in the library of the University of Minnesota–during my summer “vacation” time.

Not many years ago, for three summer “vacation” times, I was so fortunate to be in Cambridge, England. The main “big” library was not open to summer students (except practically by Papal decree or a letter from the Queen). But no matter, I was in the summer-school library, walking the aisles, touching the volumes and volumes, doing research on the aorist tense of Greek, used by James Joyce in his short story “The Dead”!

Cambridge Pic: Wikipedia

Cambridge Pic: Wikipedia

I can hum “Marian, madam librarian” from The Music Man–often. I’ve got trouble, right here–in love with books and libraries.

And now, September, then November–and summer is over. “Vacation”? I know I can have everything I need now through the Internet. I don’t need summer.


But walking the stacks, touching the volumes and their spines, smelling the books. And, as in The Music Man, having a librarian, like Marian, checking out my books. That’s what love has got to do with it. I love libraries.

© James F. O’Neil 2014

I Love Books

I Love Books















“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”–
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Turn, turn, turn. A time to laugh, jump, play; a time to build, tear down, and rebuild.

Our family used to live in Chicago, at 1623 West Van Buren, near Ashland, with the “L” behind our building. But:

Demolition for Congress Street Expressway

Demolition for Congress   Expressway

The Congress Street [Eisenhower] Expressway made us move.

I went to 1st and 2nd grade at St. Jarlath’s on Jackson Boulevard.

Saint Jarlath Catholic Church and School

Saint Jarlath Catholic Church                 

(St. Jarlath: Ethnic Origin: Irish. Date of Origin: 1869. Neighborhood Location: West Town, 1713 West Jackson. In September 1969, the church closed. [“Heavens to Purgatory: Imploding Churches Flatten Chicago”: “Over the decades, grand churches such as the Catholic St. Jarlath’s, St. Leo’s, and St. Charles Borromeo, along with Protestant houses of worship and synagogues are demolished, erased from the cityscape.” –Lynn Becker,])

When the demolition of our neighborhood began, I cannot remember. I cannot recall wrecking balls, bulldozers, or men working. However, what I do recall vividly are the fires from the piles of wood that remained after demolition of the buildings.

What are brothers and sisters playing together supposed to do? Their playing field now looks like a World War II bombed-out neighborhood in Berlin or in Hamburg. What to do? The alleyways are gone. A few abandoned cars under the “L” tracks. But the rubble fires?

What is there about a campfire that attracts us and keeps us nearly frozen in time, mesmerized, as the flames rise, the embers glow, the wood crackles and pops, perhaps even shooting tiny missiles of fire, sparks. Sparks that might be dangerous to little hands or clothes or long blond hair of a fourth-grade girl.

Campfire Fun

             Campfire Fun

Picture me in second grade, my play-pal sister, Janice, two years ahead of me, stirring up the fires of demolition. What fun! Feed the fire with other sticks of wood. Make the fire come to life: “We have fire!” We are entranced.

Someone reported us to our mother.

The playtime ended. No more Fire Starters in the rubble on Van Buren. What to do now? Put pennies on the streetcar tracks? Did that. Play in the car, swinging on the steering wheel. Got too big for that. I am sure that we found something else to do–and were informed that our building was next to go. We moved to the South Side.

So long ago, so many great memories of childhood.

Here in my Ohio neighborhood, I am seeing trucks and equipment. Demolition is occurring. Not for an expressway but because a cottage is old and rotten and decrepit. So the buildings, perhaps some nearly seventy years old or more, are coming down. Part of a renewal-scape project.

Here is what it looks like:

Demolition of Cottages #7 & #8

Demolition of Cottages #7 & #8,  Epworth Park, Bethesda, Ohio

And so it goes, for life goes on. It is for the best. It is time: turn, turn, turn.

But that pile of wood…. I need to call my sister. Can she come and play?

© James F. O’Neil


INDELIBLE: physically impossible to rub out, wash out, or alter; impossible to remove from the mind or memory and therefore remaining forever.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I got a part-time job at Visitation parish in Chicago. Then, in 1956, it had a kindergarten building, an elementary school of three stories, and a girls’ high school. For four years, I spent my days off from school and my summers working in the three large buildings, in addition to the auditorium and the basement bowling alley–cleaning, but mainly painting walls, floors, windows, and ceilings


Paints Used

I received much experience with paint in those days–and I admit that I got good at my job, especially doing window frames and baseboards. Of late, I have been painting stairs and porches of our old summer cottage. Nevertheless, I have not ever used as much paint as I did during my high school years.     

Yet as I look back at all my experiences with paint, including decorating rooms and exteriors of our houses, none stands out more than that which took place one sunny afternoon when I was a boy growing up in the city. Perhaps the season was summer or spring; it wasn’t snowy or freezing, for I remember wearing a T-shirt.        

My mother had sent me to the bakery to get some desserts for after supper. To get to our bakery, I went a half city block to Ashland Avenue, crossed, then to the bakery on the alley. On that particular afternoon, at the age of ten or eleven–I cannot be very specific–my first experience with closeness to death occurred.

Going into the bakery had always been a most pleasurable act. Then all was so fresh, with few preservatives, with so little concern for diets, cholesterol, or pimples. Heaps and heaps of calories and fats piled upon each other, whether in Napoleons, apple slices, cherry pies, sweet rolls/cheese Danishes, cookies, breads. From morning to closing, the bakery brought delight and delightful smells to the neighborhood–and to little boys. I tried to go as often as possible–as the family budget would allow.         

That particular afternoon the smells of the bakery goods and the smells from the ovens would be overpowered by the smell of calcimine (“a white or tinted wash that consists of glue, whiting or zinc white, and water that is especially used on plastered surfaces”–I later found in the dictionary).

My purchase was completed; I left the store, carrying something for dessert. As soon as I got outside, still holding open the screen door, I was hit in the face with the smell of chalky paint, an odor that I had never before encountered: acrid, pungent, biting, yet with an underlying scent of paint.           

I like–have liked–the smells of paint and painting. My model airplanes and boats were all painted–covered–with my many favorite shades from Testor’s. I enjoyed the odor–the fragrance–of brush cleaners, paint thinners, turpentine. That moment’s smells were unpleasant. I cannot forget the visual scene as my nose led me to the body of an old white-haired man lying in a pool–or what seemed like a small lake–of calcimine. I remember seeing a little red blood, perhaps from a cut head.

He was nearly covered; but I saw his worn brown shoes, white socks, and painter’s coveralls. He had on an old thin T-shirt, as I did. He was moving; the crowd gathered on the curb of the street, in the alley, in front of the bakery. I wanted to get out of the store, but a few people were in my way. I pushed them aside, and broke into what seemed to be a circle forming around the man.           

He was trying to reach to his back pocket. I watched him motion. People around seemed to be doing nothing to comfort him–but shouting out: “He’s trying to tell us something!” I did nothing either. I didn’t know what to do. I only thought of the bakery dessert and getting home. Yet the smell and the scene fixed me there. “Help him, somebody! He needs help,” one onlooker called out. I heard the words “heart attack” and “stroke”; they made no real sense to me at that moment.           

Then I was running home, to the corner, to the light, crossing the four lanes, another half block, turning the corner, running up the stairs to tell all that I had seen. I had to have told my mother. But I cannot recall what surely must have happened: the excitement, being breathless, the storytelling, the realization of the meaning of the event, then the tears that certainly had to come from an impressionable young boy.           

I can tell about death and dying–grandparents, Dad, my Uncle Bill, young friends killed in accidents, a woman I saw who had fallen to her death from the fifth floor of our apartment building, deaths I attended while I worked at hospitals, students of mine, my brother’s dog, my cats.

But this alone man lying on the sidewalk with a broken-open empty gallon can of calcimine near his feet? I never found out whatever truly happened to him.

Supposedly, the smell of Crayolas or crayons brings most memories to the fore. And apple pie, for some. True, for me, but the smell of calcimine has not been one of favorite sensuous experiences. What remains now is simply the memory of the occasion, though the details are getting dim–except for the smell in my memory of that white spill on the concrete and on that white-haired man struggling for help.


© JAMES F. O’NEIL 2014

Variety of Crayola Smells

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random thoughts 'n things from the life of jacob

Vintage Groupie

Connecting buyers and sellers who are devoted to vintage collectibles.


A variety of fiction and non-fiction – everything from the dark & thought provoking to light humour… Short Stories, Flash Fiction, Articles, Book Reviews, etc.


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