“You Can Do Anything You Want to Do”

When I was 29, in 1980…so long ago that Dinosaurs walked the earth…for the first time(but not the last)in my life, life itself decided that it should pick up a 2 by 4 and smack me upside my head. I know…many of your heads are well acquainted with that same 2 by 4.(can I get an ‘Amen’)..and , let’s just say that I did not handle it well…and if not for a friend who has since died I don’t know where I’d be.  But that’s another story.

I was lost..just lost so I went to the hospital to visit the mother of a friend.  I don’t know why…something to do…I was a self-pitying ass at that point… and sat on the floor in her hospital room because her two sisters were visiting…and I told them all about the 2 by 4 and my head and how I didn’t know what I was going to do and …yada yada…and the woman I was there to visit(I remembered this earlier today)looked at me, and with her sisters nodding their assent…said to me…”you’re young, you’re smart…you can do anything you want to do, can’t you.” They were all in their 70’s.. well, I got up off that floor, hugged all three women, straightened my shoulders, walked out that door and have never looked back.

Easy life then?  Hell no!  I’ve made the acquaintance of that damn 2 by 4 more times than I would have liked since then…but each time I remembered what Naki O’Brien said to me…and I got up, dusted myself off and fought the hell back.

I was looking around on the internet tonight because I have let stress get the better of me(temporarily)and found this quote from Maya Angelou…and she says what Naki said…and I remembered..

I may not be 29 anymore(soon to be 65)but I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t gone to see Naki and she hadn’t given me that advice.  You don’t know who you’re going to meet who will tell you the straight shit that you need to hear, especially when you’re on the floor with a black eye from that damn 2 by 4…you just don’t..but I did..and I’m still here…I may no longer be young on paper, but I’m still smart, and I can still damn well do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it.

By the way, I went home that day, enrolled to study Geology, got a book and taught myself Algebra, Trig and Calculus…and beat that 2 by 4.  I’ve been knocked down..but I’ve always gotten back up…and I need to remind myself of that.  I need to remember how I got here.chose2

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So You Want to Go to London….

Is the title of my very first ebook.  It is a guide to getting to and around London the cheap way.  I discuss youth hostels, bus and rail travel, what to wear, how to save on meals and what to see.

You can use this guide to find an inexpensive place to Stay in London, and how to get around without having to rent a car.  I also include information about using the rail system to travel outside of London.

Take a look and tell me what you think!

So You Want to Go to London….

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Hiking, Eating, Drinking and Elking in Banff


Whenever I get ready go on a trip I always have a moment when I think,  “What the hell I am doing?  Why am I leaving my home, my dog, my very comfortable bed and my easy life to do this?  Am I crazy?”  Yes, I always reach this point, and I’m always tempted to say the hell with it all and stay home…but I don’t.  I always go.  But then, I’ve always had this thought when I’ve tried something new-off to college, new job, etc.  I always have a moment of trepidation, a small failure of courage…fear of doing something new-anxiety…but I always …go.

On this last trip the thoughts came to me at 2:30 in the morning on the day I was to fly out to Calgary.  2:30?  Damn straight!  That’s the time I had to get up to be ready for my ride to the Cleveland Airport at 3:30.  Damn terrorists…used to be able to get to the airport…anyway…back to my story.

My friends took me to the airport in pouring rain, the flights were fine, I landed in Calgary, met my hiking friend and went to get the rental car. Hmmmm.   I had arranged a great deal on the car, had called to make sure they took debit cards and was all set…except when we got there, the very nice young woman at the counter told me that Dollar Rental Cars doesn’t take debit cards in Calgary.  How the hell is that a thing???  Seems they have the chip in Canada and …anyway…  We could have used my friend’s credit card but she didn’t bring her driver’s license.  Don’t ask me why.  Ended up it cost us both an extra $100.  I’m still dealing with the rental place, but…nothing will happen.  Ahh well…we got a very nice car from National because they took pity on us and started out across the high plains of the Canadian Shield to Banff National Park.

Flat, flat, flat, cows, flat..grasslands…..jeeeeezus!  Mountains!  Real Mountains!  The Rockies rise straight up out of the Plains…it’s all flat and grasslandy then…mountains!  We “ooooed” and “aaaahed” and missed the turn off to Banff three times.  Lots of trees up there.

We eventually found Banff and did some grocery shopping-surrounded by snow capped mountains and fir trees…miles and miles of fir trees.  Up the Trans Canada Highway we went to Castle Junction and into our hostel-the HI-Castle Mountain Hostel.

It is half way between Banff and Lake Louise, just at a little crossroads-cabins and a small gas station/store across the road.  It’s nestled back a small gravel road from the highway, all quiet with Castle Mountain standing sentinel high above it.  All you heard was birds, the wind in the trees…peaceful, quiet…OMG!!!  What is…???  Seems the train tracks are about 100 yards from the hostel.  Trains go by about 6000 times a day-and night.  You get used to it.  Hey!  for $20 a night…  Most of the time it is quiet there.

There are fourteen beds in each dorm(one male and one female)and a wonderful common room with windows on three sides, a wood stove, cushioned benches…down from a great kitchen.  Took our shoes off, claimed our bunks, marked our food and put it away and headed out to climb Castle Mountain.

The next morning we took the Bow Parkway down the twenty miles to Banff.  Oh yeah, saw animals!  We saw a bear!  Just a black bear, but it was the first one I’ve seen since I was ten!  We saw a herd of mountain goats too.  Never saw another animal on the Bow Parkway-got to be a joke.

Banff is busy!  Very upscale, very crowded, very noisy.  We were so happy we were out in the sticks.

We hiked every day, although I didn’t climb the high passes.  Highest I went was a 1000 foot climb and that was enough!  I really don’t enjoy walking and am so very glad my hiking friend has a new boyfriend to hike with so I don’t have to go with her when I go to England!  I would much rather sail or take train journeys!(or meet my friends for lunch)  But I did the low level hikes then sat and read while I waited for her.  I read a book and half another by a friend of mine.  Good books.  One day…  😉

By the way, I realized yesterday that one of the things I most enjoyed about the hostel was the lack of TV/internet.  In the evenings after supper we would read..so yesterday I turned off my phone, sat on my front porch in the sunlight and read for three hours…and it was nice.

It’s gorgeous in Banff National Park!  I couldn’t take a bad picture!  I loved the Consolation Lakes the best because very few people hike out there and it isn’t a high climb.  It’s just out of the way…and over a shitload of rocks.  I had such a sense of peace there.  I’ll get the picture I took there developed.  Oh, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Bow Lake and Peyto Lake are glorious-but we were surrounded by jabbering tourists at all of them.  Give me a less dramatic but peaceful place!  My friend went to the Lake Agnes Tea House and did the Plain of Six Glaciers hike with a group of five people from the hostel. I rested at the hostel.  I include that in my vacations now-take a day for myself and not hike, and I feel better for doing that.banff

They had the best time-the six of them!  Michael, Michelle, Judy, Erin and Aaron and my bud Pam.  The pictures were wonderful.  No, I wasn’t jealous!  I don’t like hiking up that high!

The hikes were grand, the scenery was magnificent, but none of it would have meant as much as it did if it weren’t for the people I met.  That’s what is so wonderful about staying in hostels-the people.  I wasn’t sure about this place, because I’ve only stayed in hostels in the wilds of Scotland, but after the first day it all kicked off.  Judy, Michael, Michelle, all the young German hikers(so many)then Lena at the end just made the trip so very special.  I can see mountains any day, it’s the people who stick with me.  We stayed at the hostel for two weeks, and each few days brought a new group of people to talk to, to laugh with, to share stories with…to enjoy their company.

There were nights around the stove, nights out on the road looking at stars(and  bear), nights at the picnic table drinking Canadian beer and listening to indefatigable young German lads planning to backpack over mountains.  Finding out that three young German women were spending a month in the Rockies before going back to train to be teachers.  Sharing some hints from my thirty-seven years in the classroom.  “Never show fear.”  “Never tell them it’s your first year.”  “You are the adult.”  Finding out that they are from Passau!  I’ve been to Passau!

Judy, who hitch hiked across Europe in 1955 and who has been around the world nine times.  Lady’s got guts!  She’s inspired me to stay in a guest house in Dublin this September!  Alone!  I had planned to travel with a friend, who has had to back out…but with Judy as my inspiration I’ve booked a cottage on the sea, then the guest house.  Quiet woman who, in her 70’s, still hikes.  She has stories to tell.

Michael, who smiles with his heart, who brightens up a room just by being there, and who has hidden depths.   I will meet Michael again.  Come to Ireland Michael!

Michelle, who surprises…who surprises.  And who still surprises.

Beth Ann who goes off backpacking alone-depending on a few days without a shower to create an “aroma” that will keep the bears away.  Last I heard she was headed for Alaska.

My god!  Germans!  They come over in small groups, buy a car, drive around Canada for months, sell the car and either get their visa to work in Canada or go back to become teachers.  Quiet, fast asleep by 11:00, up and out by 8:00…climbing mountains, walking miles, smiling, young…all the Germans!

And finally Lena.  Lena, who is not home yet, and who plans to surprise her mother by getting home a few days early.  We saw her walking down the road to the hostel, and we both remarked at her guts-hitch hiking alone…then she walked into our hostel.  Guts!  Hitch hiking alone across Banff…been in Canada since January, slept on beaches, bussed across the Plains, camped alone.  We gave her tea bags, we helped her set up in her campground, and loved listening to her tell her tales.  She found a campsite by a stream and didn’t want to leave.

Yes, I’ll remember the mountains and the lakes and the bears and Eric the Elk, but mostly I’ll remember the people, and be glad I stayed in the hostel in the woods.

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Bed & Breakfasting Across Wales


My second ebook is a guide to traveling across wales while staying in bed & breakfasts.

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My First Kindle Book

I can’t knit anymore and I hate to just sit and watch TV in the evenings, so I decided to try my hand at writing short Kindle books.

But what to write about?  I thought about writing how to set up a classroom, but, that would be just one book, so I thought about what I could possibly tell others about that would be useful.

Travel.  Travel when no one can go with you.  I can write all sorts of books about that!  So I bought a Kindle book about writing Kindle books and started.  I made the book short and informative..used a template from Open Office, and followed the steps on Kindle Publishing-and published!

Oh, it isn’t perfect!  The formatting didn’t come out how I wanted it to at all.  I do like the cover…Kindle shows you how to make a cover right there…but the links work.

Next time I’ll not use a template and see what happens.  This book is my experimental book.  It can be done!  I think it’s useful, clear and simple.  It was fun to do!

My next book will be; “Bed And Breakfasting Through Wales”.  I like it!

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My First Book!

I wrote this book for those of us on the plus side of forty, who want to travel but don’t have tons of money, or who don’t want to get stuck on a tour bus all day long. This book will help you get to London, tell you what equipment you need, where to stay, how to get around and what to see, all without spending a lot of money. It is based on things I have done myself, after I retired.
This book will guide you through finding inexpensive flights, accommodation in London, how to get into London from the airports, etc. Practical information, useful and simple information. All the links are provided so you can use this to plan your trip. Use it as a starting point, or plan your entire trip from the information I provide. When I retired I decided to travel, but no one would go with me. I was determined to go anyway, so I did! I searched and planned, and made mistakes, so this book is the result of what I learned.
I hope this book encourages you to travel, even if no one will go with you. Don’t let that stop you!
There are sections on flights, hotels and hostels, the Tube, the trains, the buses, what to see, ideas for local food, and how to call home.
If you do read this book and it helps you, please leave a review and let me know how I helped you, or how I could improve the information.


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The Wonders of family

The Kindness of Family

 It is a wonderful thing when your family accepts you, even if they haven’t really known you before or even met you before. And you accept your family, even if you haven’t known them before or even met them before.

 You include them, they include you…even though you are, in so many ways, strangers, because there is a hope implied that, even though you are strangers, there will be a connection, you will expand your circle of friends.

 At least my family does.

 Why is that? Old caveman memories? Tribal memories? “Us against the world” memories? Being Irish? Don’t know.

 But accepting doesn’t mean including…not on the basis of just being family, because once you get to know each other you might not like each other…you might not jive. Including happens when you realize that you are comfortable together…I think. That you can laugh and talk about old times, and begin to want each other in your lives. When that starts to happen, something wonderful starts to happen. Something happens that adds to your life and to theirs.

 Family. And it all started because a friend painted the rooms in her house. Ah, but we can’t forget the quilt! The quilt led to…and why did it lead to the meeting? Perhaps we all were looking to expand our families. I was. I think we all were.

 My cousins in Cornwall invited me to come up for a weekend to see their boys play hockey, so I said yes! There was a time when I would have been anxious and nervous about going for a visit like this. I have not been that way at all with Maureen, Jim and the boys. Not at all. I hope they weren’t nervous about me coming because I try to be the lowest impacting guest I can possibly be.

 I wanted to see Owen and Danny play hockey. I’d never been to a hockey game, knew nothing about it…and only went because they were playing. If they played soccer I’d go to those games…but hockey it is. It’s cold in hockey rinks! But after awhile you don’t care because you get caught up in the action…and are too busy watching to be cold!

 I loved being just a cousin, just part of the family. Just “Cousin Sissy”. I loved that BearPuppy accepted me! I loved Bear hugs and Augie letting me walk him.

 I loved the feeling of love and warmth in Jim and Maureen’s home.

I loved that it is a home and not a house…that it was as it was and not perfect, because it is a home that is well lived in, happily so.

I loved all of us eating together that last night and the boys gathered around their father as they looked at pictures of him at their age.

I loved how they all kidded each other, and how proud the boys were of their father, how they all have followed him onto the ice.

I loved that Owen put the one picture of his father on Facebook…”The Man, The Myth, The Legend.

I loved that Jim has these boys and Maureen around him.

I loved Owen teasing me about the family tree paper in the kitchen.

I love how Owen thinks..how he lives just a bit inside himself…how he watches and knows what is going on.

I loved Jimmy not really wanting to have his picture taken with me, but smiling that wonderfully mustached smile as he stood next to me.

I loved Owen not really at all wanting to be bothered with having his picture taken, but coming out of the locker room anyway because his parents asked him to, and standing there so tall and sweet.

I loved Danny not having to be asked twice to have his picture taken with Meghan and me…flashing that million dollar smile he has and knowing he is adorable.

I love the smile Danny gave me whenever he saw me.

I loved sitting on the couch and watching Danny read the book I brought up, then burying his head at a scene on the tv…all grown up and still shy…letting me cover his ears so he wouldn’t hear what was going on.

I loved talking to Jim about ….everything.

I loved getting to know him now.

I loved Maureen for everything.

For initiating the Girly Cousins Weekend and the Gettysburg trip and this trip.

For cleaning, but leaving her quilting out.

For the trip to the yarn shop and for lunch by the river with oysters, steak and cocktails.

For sharing her family and home with me.

For including me.

 Family is different…family has a bond that makes your heart just that bit warmer when bad days come.

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Have You Ever Wondered…


Have you ever returned to a house where you once lived, where there once was life…yes, life…happy life….sad life……life with all it’s highs and lows..once there…but no more there….empty now……and stood outside that door you knew so well and thought, “If I just open this door very slowly and walk in so quietly that no one knows I’ve come in….I wonder if I’ll find them all here. I wonder if I’ll be able to sit in a corner and watch them all, listen to them all, as I did when I was young.”

But you don’t open that familiar door.  You turn and walk away, back to your car and the home you live in now…..because you don’t want to know for sure, because you want to believe that they are still there, as they once were, still arguing and laughing, still drinking and eating, still, still there. You wish they were there, and you wish you were there with them. And you miss them.  Deep in your heart you miss them.

This thought came to me today as I drove up to the little hunting camp we once owned…up in the Pennsylvania mountains between Newmansville and Tylersburg. I didn’t drive up there to reminisce or to feel sad. I drove up because I hadn’t been there for years, and I felt alone, and I wanted to be in that familiar place once more…just to see it and remember. I know those woods better than any other, and I wanted to be in the woods.

But, as I was driving up Rt.208, listening  to Joyce DiDonato sing “Over the Rainbow”, just past Fryburg, I drove over the crest of a small hill and was suddenly, haltingly, ten again. Ten again and almost unable to breathe.  And tears came!  Tears of missing, good tears.

I’d forgotten where it was….. “Ironing Board Pass”. Yes, “Ironing Board Pass”.  As I drove I was back in that old Dodge again.

We were taking a fridge, some small stuff and an old wooden ironing board up to camp…had to be around 1961…and my father drove over that small hill and down just fast enough to throw that ironing board out of the trailer. I remembered it as if it just happened! We all felt a jerk. Jack and I looked out the back window to see if we’d lost the fridge, and there was that ironing board flying through the air.

It survived! My father pulled over, Jack and I ran back and got the ironing board, we all tied it onto the trailer again and we finished the trip to camp. Forever after that, whenever we drove over the crest of that hill, we would all yell out; “Ironing Board Pass!”

That moment changed the trip. It was no longer just a trip to the mountains to see the places where I grew up…they were suddenly all with me again…all of the ones I’ve lost.

But, not…not in a sad way. I smiled, just as I’m smiling now. And it wasn’t just memories of the camp that came back. It was of all of them at so many times……Christmases, New Year’s, celebrations, funerals…all of them came back, which brought back the thought I often have as I pass the old house on N. Oakland Avenue….would they still be there…could I catch them unawares? Could I go through that door so quietly that they wouldn’t notice me, wouldn’t fade away…that they would stay?

I lost them all when I was young.  My parents were older when I was born, and my father’s parents were older when he was born, so by the time I was in my 20’s most of my family were gone. They were all so full of life that I thought they would always be there.  I never pictured life without them.  They were loud and argumentative, and drank, and loved…and never really noticed me as I sat there with a book.  I watched them all, loved them all.

There were the Christmases when my father’s sisters, twenty years older than he was, would come to our house down on Ohio Street..Aunt June dressed in her mink, Aunt Treda jealous…both stiff and stern..like giants to me as I sat on the floor register. “Does she know how to eat properly, John Philip?”  Aunt June would ask as she looked at me across the table. I was four! I had to know all the ins and outs of which fork and spoon to use! Everything was discussed, they never treated us as children…we were expected to be able to join in, to back up what we said with fact.  There was always a stiffness to their gatherings…the women wore their girdles under their dresses, the men wore suits and ties.

But then there were oh so many holidays with my mother’s mother.  Mag.  Marguerite Basher…brusque, short tempered….arguing and drinking with her sisters. Aunt Helen trying to tell her what to do, and Mag not taking any of her guff…the both of them just looking at Aunt Ceil as she talked…shaking their heads at her and laughing with each other. My mother moving amongst them…quiet, smiling…emptying an ashtray, grabbing a bit of cake, checking on me.  There was always certain calm to my mother…an inner stillness, a peacefulness.  Rooms filled with heat from the coal furnace, with cigarette smoke and good smells from the food.  Beer bottles and highball glasses on the tables, more in the sink…clattering as the women washed them.  People moving around, sitting at the dining room table long after the dinner was finished.  Uncle Ham, Uncle Bill, Uncle Francis….Grandpa Louie…my father…all arguing, all laughing…exuding life…then playing cards and drinking till they could hardly stand. Never had to worry about table manners with the Irish bunch… But, never grow up to be a Republican!!!

Undercurrents in both families…old resentments and grudges…old secrets…and no one paid too much attention to me…I was little, I was quiet. I listened.

I would sit with Grandpa Louie and listen…he was quiet, like me.

As I drove through Ironing Board Pass and on to camp today all of them came back to me, and I missed them.  I missed not knowing them as a grown up, missed having the chance to know them as an adult, to talk…to sit with them at the table as an equal.  To be surrounded by the warmth of them.

I drove past the road where the camp was…been forty years since we sold it…it’s gone now…..I drove on down through Cook’s Forest and home on I-80…and I still wondered…if I go to Aunt Helen’s house up on Anson Way, and open the door ever so quietly…will I catch them there? Are they still there…do they fade only when someone comes in? Are the rooms warm with the smell of the coal fire?  Are the women smoking and talking in the kitchen? Is their laughter loud and free?  Are the men out on the front porch with their beer and their hunting talk? Or, are they back down at our house on Ohio Street gathered around the dining room table…picking at the carcass of the turkey long after dinner had finished……arguing, laughing, talking while they have another highball…. while we kids sit under the table and listen?


Maybe not…doesn’t matter….because I still see them there, I still hear them there…and I still count myself lucky that I was once with them there..

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Channel Islands, 2013

I Can Live Here

Summer, 2013

There are people who can live anywhere,

Who can feel at home in Australia,

Who can be at rest in Peru.

Who can live anywhere in peace.

There are people who can live anywhere.

I am not one of those people.

I am the person exile was invented for.

I cannot live anywhere.

I can live only here.


I can travel, I can become familiar with new places,

I can find my way around cities that were once strange to me.

I cannot live in in those places.

I can live only here.

My heart’s strength drains out of me when I am not here.

Little bits of it fall away each day I am not here.

Little bits, little bits, little bits…all drop away from me as I travel.

I have to come here to build my heart whole again.


I need to hear the peepers on the hot August nights,

I need to feel the humidity, to see hills covered with trees

I need for there to be spaces between houses.

I need to hear that flat midwestern accent, to see the blue in the sky that is only that blue here.

I am the person exile was invented for.

I can live only here


If I could not come back here I would slowly lose my heart.

I would always be restless,

I would always feel like a stranger.

I would not be here.

I can only feel home here..


But I will continue to travel, to risk my heart because I know now that there are places …wild places, windswept places,

Places unlike here, but like here.

I know them when I am there.

I feel my heart relax.

I feel my heart smile.

But I still cannot stay in those places, I cannot live there.

I can live here. Only here.

But when I am there with my friends,

When I am in the company of my friends, I am for that time here…

The bits of my heart don’t feel the need to search, to wander.

The bits of my heart sit awhile and listen.

I am here when I am with my friends.


There are some people who can live anywhere.

I am not one of those people.

I can live here.

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The Deliberations and the Verdict


Day 5

Judge is finished. We walk to the jury room. Order lunch. What kind of pizza. I suggest one of each. OK. Pop. That’s done. We all wait till the tipstaff leaves. The physical evidence is brought in. The pictures, Arthur’s testimony. Do I volunteer? Don’t have to…. Black Chick speaks. “It’s the teacher.” She points at me and smiles. I knew we’d bonded…even though we hadn’t spoken much…just knew. Jamestown Girls repeat what Black Chick said. “It’s you. None of us want it.” I smile. “I’ll take it unless someone else…” Black Chick stops me. “Let’s vote. All in favor of Caroline being the Foreperson raise your hand.” Fredonia chick raises her hand glumly. I knew she wanted it. Old Guy is confused, thinks they want him to do it. Young Black Guy whispers to him. “Oh! OK then. The teacher.” Wal-Mart Chick pokes me and smiles…OK

I know how red my face is. OK Lets get to it. I have to make sure this is done fairly and that no one is pressured to vote one way or another and that each person has a say in it without Fredonia Chick taking over. How? OK….I’ll read the charges. Elaine said when she was foreperson she just started with a vote. I don’t want to do that. We can’t. We have to discuss the evidence. Would be easier though. I read the charges. Fredonia Woman starts spouting about welfare. Upscale Jamestown Chick says “That’s right, but we have to just go on the evidence presented to us here.” Nice. I have back-up.

No one is in a hurry to rush this. Wow. “Let’s take a minute and look over our notes before we begin.” They do! OK Now what? I look over my notes. Everyone is quiet. I smile. How cool is this? Here we all are…only the Jamestown Chicks knew each other…and here we are…no one is rushing…I still don’t have an idea of how to proceed…there are only twelve of us. One jamestown Chick and Pipeline Guy are in the courtroom as alternates….but the group has some strong, good people…all of them but Fredonia Chick. They are concerned with doing the right thing..not worried about time. It won’t be a matter of me ‘leading’ them(which I don’t want to do), but of some sort of ‘herding cats’ approach. OK…here goes.

“I want to see the videos again” says Black Chick. Everyone says yes!! Only we want to see it close up. I open the door and call the tipstaff. “Yes, we want to see the videos. No, not the one of the Neon at night.” She comes into the room. Jamestown Bar Chick looks up from her notes. “We want to see them up close, so tell the judge he either moves that TV in front of us or we stand in front of it.” We all nod. Tipstaff says she will see what can be done. Wal-Mart Chick says the Young Black Guy should be able to figure how to move the tv over if the lawyers can’t. She gives him a little punch on the arm. We all smile. Love how she is getting him onto the group. Tipstaff leaves.

Things aren’t organized yet… I let them go…can’t be pushy…have to give everyone a say…but have to organize things in my head…very organic process.

Basketball Guy asks to see the jeans and the bandannas. We get all the physical evidence out while we wait for lunch. No one is in a hurry to make a decision. Everyone but Fredonia Woman seems to be in the process of organizing evidence and looking to see if guilt was proven. Upscale Jamestown Chick shyly asks Young Black Guy to stand with the jeans in front of him…then turn around so we can see if the t-shirt exposes the pockets. OK…Lunch.

Discussion continues. I slowly begin to take charge of the discussion…but not strictly. I will be a guide…and evenI still haven’t decided on which way I will vote. I want to make sure I don’t influence anyone’s decision. We look at our notes, pass the pictures around. We ask the Tipstaff for more pop.

I begin to feel that most of us have doubts, that the Prosecution proved the white guys were guilty, but didn’t really give us the goods on Shawn. Fredonia Woman will be different…and not because of evidence…because she made up her mind when she saw he was black. I can’t pressure her…what argument can I use… Old Guy is not really with it. I have to make sure he understands why people think a certain way. I won’t have a vote until we have all had our say.

Tipstaff comes in. Videos are ready.

Oh! They moved the TV right in front of us. We all have our legal pads for notes. Damn prosecutor’s intern can’t get the vids to play at the right point. Judge looked bemused when we came in…as if he was proud of us for demanding to see the vids close up. Interesting. Now he just looks exasperated at the Prosecution. He has this half grin when he looks at us.

Yes, we want to see all the videos I say. Might as well speak. “Play that part again” says Jamestown Bar Chick. We all lean forward. “Again” Four times we watch the Standard Market vid. We want to see the tears in the hems of the jeans. We will go back and check them again. I love that we are assertive, but polite. We’ve sat here in silence for three days and had to remain passive. Yes, we were told by the judge the one time we couldn’t ask questions of the witnesses…and I know it frustrated us all. Many good, strong personalities on this jury, and we want to make sure we do what is right. So now we have a little power. “Play it again. No, farther back. That’s it.” Lean forward. “Can you slow it down? OK. Well, show it again then.”

“No, we don’t want to see the video of the Neon driving along 18.” Prosecutor looks up suddenly, quizzically. We watch each vid three-four times. We have specific reasons to watch each vid. This has made up my mind. There is an overabundance of proof against the two white guys. The only evidence against Shawn is the torn jeans and Arthur’s testimony…his fourth version. Booker did his job. Damn.

We watch the video of the Veado’s robbery four times. I know what the rest are thinking. We can’t tell who the man is. It could be our Quiet Black Dude. The evidence isn’t there. I look at the judge, he nods and asks us if there is another video we want to see. We all shake our heads. I say no. Everyone but the judge stands as we file back into our jury room and take our seats.

I let everyone go to the toilet. The tipstaff has brought more pop and some ice. We all get something to drink. Small talk, but I feel that there is agreement amongst most of us. Oh yeah, I’m nervous, but I have backup. The Jamestown Chicks feel as I do. So does Wal-Mart Chick and Black Chick. When we had lunch with one of the Quiet ladies yesterday she made the comment that Booker was doing a great job. Old Guy doesn’t really have a clue. Basketball Guy is reasonable. Trucker ….I don’t know.

I have to start. I have to get this done. How? I have seconds to come up with a process, with a plan. I know…I say to myself…make sure no one is pressured. Make sure everyone has their say. Whichever way they decide to vote…and this just comes to me…they have to be able to back it up with evidence. We can’t convict if the evidence against this one man is not there. But, we all know he is guilty. I have to present that idea…I have to get all twelve disparate people to agree.

How? I don’t think the evidence is there. Too much talk back and forth. I can’t let Fredonia Chick talk anymore. She interrupts. She doesn’t listen. I will have to ask her if she votes guilty to show us the evidence. I use a teacher voice…

They all get quiet and look at me. I honestly don’t know if I am up to this challenge. I don’t know how this will turn out. I’m shaking inside…nervous as hell. But …

How to do this. When we came in we all sort of slumped in our seats. The vids didn’t show us anything to convict Shawn. Upscale Jamestown Chick made the comment that the evidence just wasn’t there. Black Chick said the same.

I take the three sheets with the charges on them and start. Fredonia Chick interrupts…I ask her(in a teacher voice…I can’t let her take over the process)to let me finish…that everyone will get a chance to speak when we go around and vote. She shuts up and sits back. Good sign.

I read the first charge. I look around and ask what evidence we have to show Shawn is guilty of this…the robbery at the Circle K. We all look at each other. Fredonia woman blurts out, “Well, he just did it!” I look at her and ask…point blank…and nicely..lets look at the evidence and find proof he was there, driving the getaway car. I go over the evidence. “Was Shawn on the Circle K video? Was there a shot of the Neon at the Circle K? Was there anything at all other than Arthur’s suspect testimony to show Shawn was there? Do you have doubts that Shawn was there?” We are all frustrated, but this has to be done, I know now, in this analytical way. This keeps the emotion out of our decision. We can’t find evidence beyond a doubt that he was at the Circle K. Shit.

Straight up…read the charge…get the evidence out and see if we have what we need to convict.

I read the charge again and I start. “Listen, I think he did it. I know he did it, and there is nothing I would like more than to vote ‘guilty’. But I don’t see any evidence to prove beyond a doubt that he did it. He is presumed innocent. We have to follow the law and the judge’s instructions. Other than Arthur’s testimony there is nothing to put him at the Circle K that night. I vote not guilty because I don’t see the evidence(I stress the word ‘evidence’)to convict him.”

I start with Basketball Guy. We are twelve now. I tell him to vote however he wants, but to show us the evidence…that we would all love to see the evidence we need. He sighs and says “Not guilty. The prosecution didn’t prove he was at the Circle K.” Jamestown Bar Chick says the same…adds how angry she is that the Prosecution didn’t do their job. The two Quiet Ladies quietly say not guilty. That’s all they say.

Fredonia Woman. “Well, I know he’s guilty. We all know…” Black Chick interrupts her. “We all know he did it! We all want to convict him, and let me tell you, he”l be back in jail before the year is out. I’ll see him on my cell block. But unless the evidence is there…” I start, “Please!” I move the pictures in front of her. “Just find the evidence and we will all vote to convict!” I want her to feel part of us. I don’t want to alienate her or belittle what she has to say because then we will never reach a verdict. I have to walk a fine line between placating her and using peer pressure to get her to see what I’m saying. Wal-Mart Chick speaks up. “She’s right! The prosecution didn’t give us the evidence we need to convict! I wish they did! We all know he did it. But he is innocent until proven guilty, like the judge said. Show us the evidence to prove that…because I don’t see it.”

That was great. Jamestown Bar Chick says the same. I know we are pressuring her, but she isn’t ever going to judge Shawn on the presented evidence. She is always going to want to do her own thing. This is the pivotal point here. I ask her again…plead with her…butter her up a bit…not too much…show us the evidence here in this room and we will all vote to convict. Black Chick says “Amen!!” The two Quiet Ladies nod their heads. Wal Mart Chick asks the Young Black Guy what he thinks. “Evidence isn’t there.”

Fredonia Woman really just cares about spouting off. I know she didn’t listen at all in the courtroom. I ask her again to find the evidence to convict. If she did, I would vote to convict! It isn’t that I think I’m all that right…I’m not happy about this. I tell her that.

She sighs and votes Not Guilty. We finish with the first charge. Seven more to go.

For each charge I read it, give my opinion, and start with a different person each time to vote. I tell them to tell us why they vote the way they do. I ask them to talk as much as they want. I want each of them to be equally important. I think…where is this coming from? Am I doing this the right way? Am I pressuring these people to vote a certain way? Should we have a secret ballot? No. We, for some reason, have bonded…all but Fredonia Woman…I think this is a good way to do this. What do I know?? I am just trying to be as fair as possible. Please! If you see evidence to convict…show us! Don’t listen to me…do what you see as right on the evidence.

We finish the Circle K charges. Not Guilty on all three. Fredonia Woman has to have her say on each charge, but we all know the rhythm to this now. She spouts her hate, then I ask her to show us the evidence…Black Chick reassures her that we all think he is guilty…she votes Not Guilty.

On to McQuaids. Two charges. There was no video from there, or witnesses…and Arthur said he did it alone anyway. So…why was Shawn charged? Oh. “Terroristic threats against Arthur”. Jamestown Chicks laugh. “Yeah, Arty boy sat outside the Lighthouse in July in a car without air conditioning. Oh, they had to be at the Lighthouse…it’s right across the street from McQuaids. They ain’t goin’ down to the bars in Farrell…they’d be laughed out of them.” Black Chick concurs. “Arty was in the Lighthouse drinkin’ with the older guys and thought he would show what a big man he is so he walked over to McQuaids with the shotgun. Didn’t he say they laughed at him? Shiiit. He’s lucky they didn’t shoot him then and there. All those Arab boys is armed. Arty is damn lucky to be alive. What drugs did he do that day? Xanax? Piss ant drug. Shiiiit.”

Not Guilty on the charge of terroristic threats.

Last one. Veado’s. Trucker is fed up with the prosecution. I let him have his say…he speaks for all of us…gets out his frustration. We have three charges to go. I don’t want to rush, and I feel that I am. I stop everything and get the Veado’s pictures out. We go over what we saw in the videos. That was the video we watched to see if the robber wore the jeans with the tears in the hems. He did not. We review what we have. We discuss the Neon. Yes, that was the robbers driving to rob Veado’s…but is there any evidence that puts the Neon at Veado’s? Pictures? Testimony? The other white guy is dead. Suicide by cop. What about the rose he bought for his wife?

The testimony of the chick from Arby’s? We get sidetracked. She said she went to the car to talk to Jeff while Shawn waited in the store. Her name tag was ‘lost’ in the backseat of the Neon? Uh huh. Black Chick snorts. “Oh, she was usin’ her mouth all right, but not for talkin’.” We all nod. What was that about? Was she jealous of Jeff’s wife? The prosecution can’t find her?

“Bullshit.’ says upscale Jamestown Chick. We nod. The men are suddenly quiet. Upscale Jamestown Chick elaborates, “She had a baby to Jeff and they can’t find her? Oh HELL no! She’s on Facebook. She has to get Welfare and food stamps. She’s from Greenville? Betcha she’s still around there. She ain’t going anywhere away from her family. Maybe Transfer or Reynolds, but…give me a day and I could find her. Someone knows where she is. Arthur knows where she is.”

“Is this enough evidence to prove Shawn is the guy in Veado’s?” I ask. I can see them all think…then Black Chick speaks. “No. It could be anyone. I know it’s Shawn, but from the video and the clerk’s testimony, we cannot say for sure it’s Shawn. We have no proof they stopped the Neon at Veado’s. We just don’t.”

I start on the last three charges. Not Guilty on all three. I get no sense that people are voting not guilty just to be done and go home. No one is restless. No one wants to hurry. I go over all eight charges one more time and ask for a general yes or no to the Not Guiltys. All twelve of us say yes. I open the door and tell the tipstaff we have decided. We have a verdict. We started at 10:00. It is 4:00 now.

I feel that we did the right thing by the law. I take my time to write ‘Not Guilty’ for each charge. I have to sign my name. Oh.

We file in. The verdict papers are given to the judge. Black Chick pokes me in the back. “You get to read them!” I know. Face is red again.

The judge gives them to the bailiff and he to me. I look at him for instructions. He nods. “Jury foreperson shall stand and read the verdicts.” OK Is that sweat down my back? I stand. I look at the judge. “Should I read everything?” He nods. I begin.

I don’t really remember reading the charges. I don’t look at anyone. Not Shawn, Booker, the Prosecutors or the Judge. I finish. The Bailiff takes the papers and gives them to the court reporter(who is awake for once…it seems).

Judge asks if the Prosecution wishes to poll the jury. He does. I look at him…he seems shocked. Why? He didn’t do his damn job! We had to vote to let a guilty man go free! He should have done his job!.

The judge asks us by our numbers. “Juror number 1, do you agree with each and every verdict?” “Yes.” They get to Juror number 7…me…”Yes”. Unanimous.

Judge dismisses Shawn. Tells him he is free to go. The deputy unlocks his handcuffs. He looks at us, I don’t think anyone looks at him. The judge clears the courtroom and comes over to talk to us. We all relax…we have so much to say to him!

“You did the right thing, all of you. The prosecution didn’t prove the defendant was guilty. The prosecution did not do their job.” He looks disgusted…this was a waste of all of our time…and a guilty man is free. All because of the incompetence of people I vote for! Not next election. We all start talking…Black Chick speaks for all of us. I have said enough today.

“What the…what was wrong with them? They had all this proof about the white boys, and nothing that showed Shawn was guilty. Come on judge, we all knew he did it, and we wanted to convict him, but we weren’t given the stuff to do it with!”

Judge smiles. He talks and talks about the Prosecutor…we ask why his assistant was so bad…he laughs and says she has a lot to learn…she sure does we say..we talk about the problems with the video, that they need to move it closer to the juries…he tells us we’re the first jury he’s ever had ask to have the screen moved closer…he had a chuckle about that…that he knew we were serious and would do a good job. We tell him to go tell the prosecutor what we’ve said, that we want criminals convicted. He tells us the other white guy, the dead one…was raped by his father when he was a boy. We get very quiet. Judge tells us he had hoped the dead guy would get it together, but that he was too wounded.


Arthur? Another lost boy. Who knows what had happened to him. And Shawn? Probably the same.

I just think…if these kids had mill jobs to go to…where they could make a living wage…but…not the time.

We talk a little longer. The judge thanks us. We get our coats and walk out…for most of us to never see each other again.

What struck me about this experience is how regular people can step up and do extraordinary things. I know it was about three petty criminals, three lost boys…and the crimes were for a few hundred dollars,but we all took it as a serious thing…our job to maintain the justice system…to give Shawn a fair trial based on law and evidence. I watched people struggle to make sure they looked at all the evidence, at people who listened to each other, who respected each other…who became a unit. But then we all left and went home to vacation plans, children who had been through surgery. It was also amazing that the two alternate jurors stayed all day. They couldn’t be in the jury room with us, but they wanted to see it through to the end…and in the end they sat with us and we were 14 again.

We were all just regular people…the people who are never asked about things…the people who make everything right. The people who serve.

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