Valhalla Press-The E-publishing Paradise

11/22/2013 08:13 PM

Haunted by Kennedy

I was five years-old when President Kennedy was assassinated. Even at that young age, I knew something fundamental had changed. The memories remain very real.

Experts tell us that memories are not really archived in our brains, but rather rebuilt each time we reach for them. We overlay them with other detail enhancing some details, deleting others and ultimately placing the memories in context. So memories from childhood have been reconstructed countless times. I can only wonder how different my current recollections are from their originals.

One such memory of an event occurring just weeks after the assassination served as the basis for a chapter in my upcoming novel, Revelation 11. On a cold December day I played outside on our swing set. Looking up, I saw what looked like a black figure standing on a cloud looking down at me. What began as curiosity, turned to fear as I watched this strange apparition for several minutes. Ultimately, I ran inside, but never told my parents or my brother about the event until years later. To this day, I don't know why.

The event's fictional version appears below to give you a foretaste of the novel. It will be published in time for Easter 2014.

December 1963


“Who is the president now, mommy?” Ben Davis asked.

“President Johnson.” She replied.

He had asked the same question each day for two weeks as if changing presidents could now be a daily occurrence. The five-year-old had come in from playing for lunch two Fridays before to see his mother crying in front of the television. He remembered looking at the screen and seeing a large room filled with people moving back and forth in confusion. The announcer had said the room was the luncheon that President Kennedy was going to address, but he had been assassinated.

“What does assassinated mean, mommy?”

“It’s when someone important is killed.”

A large, black man crossed the screen in a white server’s coat. The tears streamed down his face. Ben had never seen a grown man cry like that.

Over the next days, images of death flooded the TV screen-the President’s body in state, the funeral cortege, the burial at Arlington.

In the gray days that followed, angst fed the nation’s subconscious. Even children like Ben knew something was different as a pall fell over the nation with the first days of winter. He heard stories that psychics had predicted the assassination, that a family received a message on Ouija board reading, “Thank you for praying for me while I was in purgatory.”

“What’s purgatory, mommy?”

“It’s something Catholics believe in. You don’t need to worry about it.”

“Was President Kennedy a Catholic?”

“Yes, he was.”

“So he has to worry about purgatory, right?”

Even at this age, he could tell when his mother was uncomfortable with a question. “That’s hard to say. Why don’t you go out and play on the swings until dinner?”

Ben bundled up against the cold, gray day. Dark, low clouds floated by against the lighter gray matte above them. He swung on the swings, watched the sky begin to succumb to the winter evening’s gloom. A small dark spot near one of the low, gray clouds caught his eye for a moment, then disappeared behind in the swirling vapor.

He continued to swing and look around the neighborhood to see if any of his friends were out playing. But this was the Cumberland Valley's appointed dinner hour and they were all crowded into the identical postwar crackerbox rancher eat-in kitchens.

His mother always saw the local custom of eating dinner precisely at five o’clock as peculiar. As a point of pride, and to accommodate his father, Jeff Sr.’s habit of having a few drinks before coming home, Ben’s family ate at 6—6:30, whenever, but never at five. Most likely, it would get dark before dinner and his mother would call him in.

He could just barely make out the sun’s position over the western mountains through the gray. He stood up to push off and swing as high as possible, pointing his toes and throwing his head back to look at the sky above him. The dark spot hovered above him in the clouds. Planting his feet to stop the swing, he stared up. More clearly defined now, the spot had a distinctive shape; a head, shoulders, and body apparently standing on the cloud. Long flowing hair crowned the robed figure. The fading light glinted off the suggestion of an eyebrow. Its face appeared to be looking down directly at him. To Ben, the figure looked like the silhouette of Jesus, the face subsumed in shadow.

The dark Christ moved as the cloud moved. What Ben imagined to be the face continued to gaze at him. He looked around his neighborhood. No one was out. All the dutiful diners safely huddled in their homes.
The more Ben identified the form’s distinct features, the more curiosity gave way to fear. He wanted to tell someone, anyone …or at least not be alone. But the five o’clock suburban dinner communion trumped all, even a heavenly figure standing on a cloud. Ben took one last look across the haunted landscape, saw no one, and ran inside to the light and warmth of home.

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Albert Davenport is the author of In the Shadow of Midnight: Daedalus, A Tale of Savannah and the upcoming novel Revelation 11

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03/31/2014 09:29 PM

On Darren Aronofsky

[I wrote this in early 2011.  I had just gone to see Black Swan, a film that impressed me very much.  I hadn't watched an Aronofsky production since Pi, however, so I quickly viewed the middle films of his oeuvre in quick succession and then produced this essay in two parts.  I published it to […]

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John Pistelli was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he teaches literature and writing. His reviews and essays have appeared in Rain Taxi,, Dissident Voice, and New Walk. His fiction has appeared in The Three Rivers Review, The Legendary, and Whole Beast Rag.

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02/08/2014 12:45 AM


"White people are taking over the city," Marion Barry said tonight during a radio interview with yours truly and Lyndia Grant on her WYCB-AM 1340 program, which she billed as a Black History tribute to "MB's" civil rights work. So, under those ground rules, we all just had a blast shootin' the breeze with him about his health and his legacy. Contrary to rumor, the "Mayor-for-Life" sounded much stronger than we'd expected. However, he acknowledged that he is receiving therapy an undisclosed physical rehabilitation center and says he's walking better and his muscles are better and his spirits are high, and he's looking forward to celebrating his 78th birthday on March 6. He does, after all, he said "have a 77-year-old body" and "it's a miracle that he is alive." No kidding. He alluded to diabetes as the main culprit and said the city is not doing anything about the disease that affects so many blacks. Asked, of course, about his legacy, he said, "I've helped a lot of people." Asked what the "Mayor-for-Life's" public policy priorities would be if he was actually the mayor now, he answered, "helping people stay in the city," because "the white people are taking over the city." And, he'd try to get more "jobs, jobs, jobs" which was actually the priority of his first term.
On a lighter note, MB "loves" the show "Scandal." He pointed out that Judy Smith was working in the US Attorneys Office when he was on trial, and "she's the one trying to clean up that bullshit they were puttin' out there." Only MB; we let him slide on a few of the legal details -- this time. Graciously, he thanked me for being nice! As Mary Layton said, it was a "lovefest."

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Adrienne Terrell Washington is an award-winning journalist, commentator and professor. She has covered local and national news in the nation's capital for over three decades. Her "A Washington Note" blog provides throught provoking insight into current events. When not blogging, Ms. Washington writes memoir and historical pieces.

06/26/2013 01:00 AM

Barbecue Runs Through It

I love Southern food. Barbecue especially. Smoky, salty tender bits of pork slathered in spicy sweet tomatoey goodness with a side of slaw washed down with a Coca-Cola (sugarcane edition,) It’s the sandwich the family in A Good Man is Hard to Find eat at the Tower, brought to them by the pale faced wife of the owner, all five plates balanced in her hands and on her forearm. Their last meal.
In O’Connor’s time, the Tower no doubt was a segregated establishment much like Ollie’s Barbecue, the restaurant in one of the original Civil Rights Act challenge cases the Supreme Court heard in1964. Ollie’s Barbecue was a small, family owned restaurant that seated 220 white customers and provided black customers with a take-out counter. Ollie argued that he wasn’t required to integrate his dining room because he had the contractual right to serve whom he pleased and was not engaged in so-called interstate commerce. The Civil Rights Act was premised on the Commerce Clause, which gave the federal government the power to regulate interstate - as opposed to intrastate - commerce.
The Supreme Court shot down Ollie’s argument. It reasoned that because African-Americans travelled the highways just like everybody else, they needed to stop to eat just like O’Connor’s traveling family. To deprive any travelers of any race of the joys of barbecue was unconstitutional and impeded their movement across state lines.
One of the ironies of Ollie’s Barbecue is that the cuisine has its origins not in the Northern European lands of Southern whites, but in the cooking of the Caribbean and from there to the United States with the slave trade. Soon, Southerners were enjoying their pig roasted and smoked at barbecues. In fact, in the opening scene in Gone with the Wind has Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of an Irish plantation and slave owner, attends a barbecue at neighboring plantation Twelve Oaks - all of it prepared by slaves.
Food and race are inextricably linked in the South. One need only look to recent revelations that Paula Deen harbored a nostalgia for times long gone with the wind when she told lawyers during a deposition that she had wanted a proper plantation wedding for her brother complete with servers dressed like those who had served Scarlett her barbecue. Those servers, by implication, would have pretended to be slaves. That this fantasy might have been misinterpreted was Paula’s stated reason for rejecting the idea.
So here we are, on the day the same Supreme Court that declared Ollie’s Barbecue open to all gutted a major piece of civil right legislation we are supposed to believe that the post-racial age has arrived. I beg to differ.

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Anniken Davenport is the author of the upcoming nonfiction book Sins of the Fathers: How a Miscarriage of Justice Brought Down a Capital City detailing the very human story behind Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's massive fiscal crisis.

She holds an MA in both fiction and non-fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. Ms. Davenport, an attorney with vast experience in criminal, labor and employment law, has authored college textbooks, and numerous professional articles.