Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Favorite Christmas Story

Before I knew it, Christmas season was upon me, and as usual, Dad annoyed me. Whenever I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he would grin and burst into song: "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth," 1946's favorite tune. 
Dad was the worst person to give a present to. Whenever he wanted anything, he just went to the store and bought it instead of giving us a big hint and waiting. That's why he ended up with such a huge tie collection.
After I heard about those two front teeth a dozen times, I asked Mama to help me. She took me downtown to the dentist's office, and we talked the dentist out of two real front teeth. I wrapped them up in pretty paper and put them under the tree with Dad's name on it.


The sun wasn't even up when my sister Margery woke the folks. They came grumbling out of their bed, pulling on bathrobes. Dad went downstairs and flipped on the Christmas tree bulbs showering light all over the piles of presents on the floor.
Daddy's hair was all tousled, but he was grinning. "Now you each get to pick one present to unwrap while your mother turns on the coffeepot." Soon all of sat on the floor, pulling out presents and looking at name tags. I kept looking for the little package, green paper with pine cones on it, the package with the two front teeth in it, but I didn't see it for a long time. So small, it just slipped down between the other packages.
When I did find it, I grabbed it and gave it to Dad. "This one's for you."
I watched the perplexed look on his face when he saw the teeth. He whooped. Sang "All I Want for Christmas" and whooped again. Later, when we both were standing, he gave me a hug. I watched him put those teeth in his pocket with his silver dollar. 

Thirty years later, standing in the mortuary after Dad died, Mama called, "Here. You might want these."
I turned. In the palm of her hand lay Dad's "two front teeth."
"He still had them?" I picked them up, marveled at them, and stuffed them in my pocket.
Mama nodded. "That's where he kept them, in his pocket with his favorite silver dollar."


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Missionary

A wind gust twirled my pink poodle skirt around my knees as I ran down the Kansas City street to the youth conference bus. Kids poured in. "Hurry up," one called, but I was last to board the all-night ride to Kearney, Nebraska.

I saw an empty seat to my left, but next to it sat a horrid dark-colored old man who leered at me. The Missionary from some faraway country. The Church expected us to like him, but I didn't even smile. I just pushed ahead to find a seat with the kids.

Only one seat remained empty in the packed bus, the one by the Missionary's side. My heart slipped down.

"Come on," the driver grinned. "You can sit there." He pointed at that awful empty seat.

The Missionary's smile seemed stuck to his face. So I smiled, sort of, a thin smile that said, "I see you but I don't like you." And I sat. The bus roared onto the highway.

I scooted to the front edge of the seat and twirled my poodle skirt to have something to do. I bounced my feet up and down. My saddle shoes needed polishing. The toes were roughed up.

The Missionary looked out the window. He smelled funny, not bad, but an odd woody smell. After a while, I edged back into the seat. Outside the black landscape zipped by.

I felt tired. Two whole days of singing, dancing, Bible verse studying, and listening to the men talk, all of them better saved than us. That's where I'd first seen the Missionary, on the stage, his hands spread out, praising the Glory of God. Then my eyelids got heavy, and after a while, I slept, my head bobbing on my bosom.

I woke to feel something stuck between my back and the chair seat. I tried to sit back, but the Missionary had pinned his arm between me and the chair, and his hand curled around my side, pressing my breast.

I leaped from my seat, nearly falling with the bus's swaying. I ran into the back, hoping in vain to find someplace else to sit. Tears blinded me, so I grabbed a pole and swayed.

I heard male voices in the front of the bus. Then the driver stopped the bus and walked back to me.

"Come on," he declared. "You can't ride like that. It's against regulations. You've got to sit down." 

Having no choice, I sat beside the missionary, scooting as far away from him as I could.

"I won't let him hurt you," the driver snorted. Then he put the bus in gear and roared back onto the highway.

I didn't dare sleep, so I just stared at the Missionary during the long hours until we disembarked.

I was the first one off.

Mother picked me up, and I thought about telling her what happened, but I didn't. I was afraid she'd figure it was all my fault. So no one ever knew but me and the Missionary—and maybe the bus driver.

written for:

a JoLt of CoFFeY 
 An Intermittent Newsletter
by Marilyn June Coffey

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Roger and the Cat

I could hardly believe my eyes. There stood that nasty creep Roger, the bane of our grade school class, and he held a kitten.

We both paused in the school auditorium, he at one end of the highly polished floor, me halfway down the side. We looked like doubles, same height, all skinny legs and arms.

I watched Roger hurl that cat along the shiny floor. He must have practiced, for the kitten slid at high speed the full length of the floor and slammed into the far wall.

I reached the cat first, grabbed it, stood up, and wrapped the fluffy little white thing in my crossed arms.

"Give it to me." Roger's chin jutted out. 

"You crazy?" I backed away. 

Roger sneered. "I said give it to me. It's my cat."

"WAS your cat." I narrowed my eyes and glanced sideways at him. "It's mine now." I inched toward the exit.

"No it's not." Roger kicked my shin. I nearly fell.

As I straightened up, he punched my cheek so hard a tooth broke.

I'd never fought a boy before but I didn't hesitate. I kneed him in his stomach, elbowed his jaw, and stomped his foot twice hard. (Or something like that). Then I fled with the cat.

At home, Mother let me keep the kitten. Not too surprising. Her father, the local Burlington agent, collected cats dropped off by the train tracks and brought them home in his pockets. His record was 30 outdoor cats, fed and watered on his back porch.

The dentist had to extract my tooth, the one that Roger broke. My nasty classmate grew up to be an obnoxious newspaper editor infatuated with booze. He's long dead, so I guess I've won twice.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

In Pursuit of a Scone

In Defense of Garrison Keillor

What's that master storyteller's crime? 

Keillor, former host of  "A Prairie Home Companion," explained:

 "I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called."

On Nov. 29, the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) fired Keillor, accusing him of  "improper behavior." Not 83 accusers like Harvey Weinstein. Or even 8, like Charlie Rose.

Chris Thile, who replaced Keillor, called the allegations "heartbreaking." But Thile noted the "harmful power imbalance that women have had to endure for so long in our culture."

Imbalance indeed. If I'd been able to turn sexual abusers into criminals like MPR, I could have fired a missionary, a national youth leader, and the director of Camp Comeca, all Methodists. And all by the time I turned 16. 

So why am I defending Keillor?

Well, it's not for his wry, sometimes dry, Midwestern variety program which he ran for 42 years. Not even for his popular monologue, which opened "It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon" and resulted in an explosion of audience applause.

No, it's for his "Writer's Almanac" which appeared every morning in my email. I'd click it and read a poem, perhaps even a poem I liked. Then I cruised down Keillor's long list of tidbits, featuring the escapades of literary folk I often knew. An intellectual scone with my morning brew. What could be nicer?

But now it's gone, forever it seems. So even though Keillor may be impure in thought, and even in deed, still if I could make MPR re-hire the fellow, I would. I miss my morning scone.

written for:

a JoLt of CoFFeY 
 An Intermittent Newsletter
by Marilyn June Coffey

The author of:
A Cretan Cycle: "A single, sharp, funny story in verse" retells the Minotaur's myth 
Great Plains Patchwork: A lyric tale of the "wondrous strange" great plains
JackJack & JuneBug: A steamy, poignant love story (with Jack Loscutoff)
Mail-Order Kid: A popular biography of Teresa Martin, an orphan train rider
Marcella: A controversial, internationally published coming-of-age novel
Mas - tur - ba - tion: A rollicking tract on a "quite inexhaustible" subject
Pricksongs: A libidinous collection of tart poems from the turbulent sixties
That Punk Jimmy Hoffa: A memoir depicts how Coffey's father beat Hoffa
The Battle of Orleans: A documentary about a hotly disputed Marcella reading 
Thieves, Rascals & Sore Losers: Details the dirty deals that helped settle Nebraska

& publisher of Jack Loscutoff's latest books:
Aunt Gussie's Socks: A Russian-American based memoir (in fact and fiction)
A Line of Shorts: The breezy short stories and holy satires of an awesome wordsmith

Buy Coffey's & Loscutoff's books: 

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Reply and write REMOVE in the subject line.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Faith Gave Me the Sky

No, I'm not going to write about my faith in this or that. I'm going to write about my aunt, Faith Lucille Kemper.

An old maid, Faith lived in a spacious two-story house in Alma, Nebraska, where she'd been born. Her small-town world limited her life. She never married, because most eligible Alma men were dead, thanks to World War I. Instead, she went to business school, then worked in the Post Office.

I loved to visit Faith, she was so congenial. I'd stop to watch the wild cats scarf down food and water on her back porch. If I stepped into her house and the radio featured Paul Harvey, I had the good sense to sit down and listen to him tell us "the rest of the story."

One day when I had grown and visited Faith, she looked up at me as I came indoors: "How's the sky?"

"The sky?" I stared at her. "I don't know. I didn't look at the sky."

Faith squealed. "You didn't look at the sky?" Her hand flew to her chest. "Why I always look at the sky when I'm outdoors."

I believed her. She kept track of the weather like some folks watch pennies.

Strangely, after that visit, my last one, the sky seemed irresistible. I seldom stepped outdoors without ogling it to see if clouds had rolled in, or not. As its fierce beauty unfolded for me, I heard myself say, "Thanks, Faith, for giving me the sky."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mustard Sandwiches

A retired railroad conductor turned historian, Dennis Wilson, spoke recently in Storm Lake, Iowa, about the Orphan Train movement.

"It was a crude system," he noted, "placing some children in good homes, but others in nightmare situations." He estimated that 20 percent of the kids placed were abused.

But Wilson doesn't see the system as cruel. "It created a chance, that's all. The Orphan Train system put its faith entirely in the kindness of strangers. What was better, leaving them in the gutters?"

He also questioned whether society treats children much better today, citing estimates of 30,000 homeless children in New York—nearly the same as when the Orphan Train movement started.

To read the Iowa Pilot-Tribune's description of Wilson's program, click here:

His program mentions two riders who became governors, Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, "leftover" kids, Street Arabs, and "bad blood."

And mustard sandwiches. That's what the early orphanages often fed children.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


When I get to feelin' sorry for myself, for the awful lot that life has handed me, I just read the newspaper and cheer right up. Earthquakes, hurricanes, wild fires, cars into trees, a toddler who accidentally killed his father—no matter what my rotten luck, nothing this bad has ever happened to me.

Or I turn to humor, maybe read a Pearl by Cousin Minnie: "The doctor must have put my pacemaker in wrong. Every time my husband kisses me, the garage door goes up."

Or I read this story about the Chappells, parents of ten. Three of their children have Batten disease, an inherited neurological disorder. It steals their kids' ability to see, to swallow, to move and to remember. Life support postpones the inevitable.

So one weekend, the Chappells set up three hospital beds in their living room. They comforted their children, then stopped tube feedings and watched their children slip away: one on Friday, one Saturday, one Sunday.

That really put the brakes on my feelin' sorry for myself. No matter what  atrocious lot life has handed me, I've never had to watch my child die.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


I am delighted to find my poem among those chosen to encourage Nebraska readers next year. My poem? The ever popular "Pricksong." It's in Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry, edited by Greg  Kosmicki and Mary K. Stillwell.

This anthology as been chosen by One Book One Nebraska. It selects literary works for Nebraskans to read and discuss, featuring books with an Nebraska author or Nebraska theme or setting. Last years' choice, for instance, was John Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks

And this year's: Nebraska Presence.

Am I in good company. The poetry anthology features more than 80 contemporary Nebraska poets, including Ted Kooser, Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States, William Kloefkorn and Twyla Hansen, both Nebraska State Poets. It also features poets—Greg Kuzma, Marjorie Saiser, Grace Bauer, and Greg Kosmicki—who had their poems read on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac. Widely noted poets Hilda Raz, Roy Scheele, Steve Langan, and many others grace its pages.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


What do Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame and my mother, both dead now, have in common?

Not much, but my surprise is that they share anything at all.

Hefner's mother, Grace, was born in Holdrege, Nebraska, population these days about 5,000, and home of The Nebraska Prairie Museum.

My mother lived 24 miles south of Holdrege in Alma, Nebraska, home to about 1,000. Dad, in his trucking days, had an office in Holdrege. Mom piped carloads of stuff into its Nebraska Prairie Museum, a higher class museum than any in Alma's Harlan County. 

One day, wandering around the Museum I noticed a doll's wicker carriage that looked like one I had as a child. Curious, I read the tag. My name was on it—one more item Mom had loaded into the museum.

But none of this has anything to do to with Hugh Hefner.

What does connect the Hefners and the Coffeys is this: Over the years, the Hefner family donated $181,000 to the Holdrege Memorial Homes, a nursing and assisted living center at 1320  11th Avenue. This home is where my mother chose to live in her later years.

Granted, Hugh Hefner and mom's ties aren't close, but even this intimacy would have upset my mother. She looked way down her nose at Hefner and his Playboy Club with its naughty girls, just as she looked down her nose at my sexually explicit novel Marcella.

So I suppose I could say Hefner and I have more in common than he and my mother. But I won't say that. I can't have her turning over in her grave.