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Tilly Overton, a spindly, wrinkled, old woman, who wore black and carried a black umbrella spied her way around the courthouse square of the town of Preston each morning purveying and seeking tidbits of information and gossip.

This morning Doc Nehring, visiting with Bill, the undertaker, at his furniture store-funeral parlor, watched her birding her way along the street pecking seeds of gossip from each passer by.

“Bill, here comes Tilly,” Doc said. Let’s play a trick on her.  I’ll get on the slab in the embalming room.  You cover me up me up with a sheet.”  

Tilly always stopped by to inquire of Bill on the well-being of the local citizenry.  By the time Tilly toddled in, Bill had busied himself among the furniture.  Her ankle length, black dress billowed from her hips and swished the furniture as she edged her way through the aisles toward him. . 

“Good morning, Mr. Heitner.”  Tilly’s  voice scraped across her vocal chords like an overworked reed on a clarinet.  “Did anyone take a walk with the Lord last night?” she asked.  Bill folded his hands, lowered his head and spoke in his somber undertakers voice.

“Poor old Doc Nehring passed away,” he said.  Tilly plucked a black hankie from the pocket of her dress.

“Oh that’s so sad,” she said remorsefully, dabbing at her eyes with the hankie.  “Could I have a last look at him?” she asked.

“I guess that would be alright,” Bill said,  “He’s out back.”  He ushered Tilly to the slab in the embalming room and reverently removed the sheet from Doc’s face.  Tilly, looked at the doctor, clutched her umbrella in folded hands and stood in silent prayer for a moment.

“I expect in many ways, he may have been a good man,” she creaked. ” But I knew that drinking and carousing throughout the night would bring him to an early grave.” 

Doc’s belly, suppressing  laughter, began to shake.  Just in time, he raised his arms to ward off the blows to his head from Tilly’s umbrella.  Bill was laughing so hard he was no help at all.


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Mistaken Identity

Molly Poole, a fifteen year old sophomore walked alone on her way home from play practice at the high school.  Even though she had been in the new school for only three weeks, having moved to town from a farm in another district, she had been given a part in the one-act play.  The moon, mostly obscured by dark clouds offered little light and the street lights seemed awfully dim to Molly. She hurried on home and felt safer when she closed the front door behind her. She was alone in the house; her widowed mother worked late and wasn’t expected home till after midnight.  Molly poured herself a glass of milk and watched some of Johnny Carson on TV before going to bed.  She quickly fell asleep, leaving the front door unlocked for her mother. 

When she awoke during the night she assumed the figure sitting on her bed was her mother.  By the time her eyes became adjusted to the dim light offered by the street light outside her window, the figure had pulled back the covers and was getting into bed with her.  Suddenly she realized the person was a man and she let out a terrifying scream. The startled man jumped up grabbed his clothes and ran from the house.  Molly called her mother at work, who in-turn called the sheriff’s office.  When I arrived at their home, Molly was near hysterics and her mother was both frightened and angry.  They showed me a pair of brown wing-tips, size 12, the intruder in his haste had left behind. 


Sometimes, in small towns, a person can know way too much about people.  Often for a sheriff, though, it can come in handy.

“Do you think the man was drinking, Molly?” I asked.  “Could you smell liquor?”

“I think so,” she replied.

“I calmed the mother and daughter down and told them not to worry.  I was pretty sure this was just a case of mistaken identity.  I told them that the lady who lived in the house previously had an occasional visitor who took a drink now and again.  I thought perhaps after imbibing he may have forgotten the lady had moved to another house. 

“I’m pretty sure I know where to take the shoes,” I said.  “And I’m positive there is nothing to worry about, but I’ll get back to you.”

I took the wing-tips with me and a couple of days later pulled up to the gas pumps outside Charlie Benson’s country store near Wykoff.  Charlie was known to take a drink or two from time to time.  There wasn’t self service in those days so Charlie came out to pump the gas. 

“Five dollars worth Charlie,” I said.  “Nice day.”

Charlie looked a little sheepish while he pumped the gas and cleaned the windshield. When he was through I looked in my billfold.

“I’m a little short of cash today Charlie,” I said.  “Could I charge it?’

“Sure,” he said.  I got out of the car and went to the trunk.

“Maybe you should have some collateral Charlie,” I said.  I opened the trunk door and brought out the wing-tips.  Charlie turned seven colors of red and shook his head.

“You sum-bitch Neil,” he muttered.

“I handed Charlie the shoes and a five dollar bill and was on my way.

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Jailhouse Stories: A Memoir

Let’s get acquainted……

Jailhouse Stories is my recollection of experiences associated with the Sheriff’s office in Fillmore County, Minnesota in the mid-fifties and early sixties. It is mostly about honorable eccentric characters who happened to be alcoholics, just plain drunks, thieves, burglars, robbers, doctors, lawyers, judges, farmers and ordinary citizens, if there is such a thing.  I tend to believe not.  I came to understand how people make a lot of mistakes, but in my view there are very few bad people.

Doctor Nehring, with whom I worked closely as County Coroner became such a rich source of unusual tales that I felt obliged to repeat them, first to my wife Helen, then after a small libation or two at social gatherings I’d share some with the group.  Thereafter, on many occasions about town I’d be requested to tell Doctor Nehring stories.  My transition, from storytelling to story writing, late in life, after serving nine years in the Minnesota legislature and a stint with the federal government (where it seems the cast of characters were strikingly similar)  has been difficult and challenging.  I first read one of my stories in public to the Minneapolis Writers Group in 1994.  They liked it and asked for more.  With this as encouragement I began to search through the old jail register.  The list of names jogged my memory of many people and incidents.  So I set about to weaving the stories into a larger story of how they related to and affected our family life.  We were one of the last sheriff families that served in an era when the family residence, the sheriff’s office and the jail were all in one building.  So in many ways we all became family.  It is out of respect for these characters that I write.  I hope you enjoy my interpretation of our experiences along this rather dusty path of life.  

 I thank the many people who gave direction for the writing of this book: Ashley Warlick author of Distance From The Heart of Things, for setting me firmly on the path of reality and guiding me until I was able to walk by myself; the Minneapolis Writers Group for their listening and editorial critiques; The Camp Creek Writers Club for their many lively discussions.  And a thank you to my wife and daughters who kept me from disposing of the manuscript in the fireplace on many occasions of self doubt.

We’ll continue with Chapter 1 later…….

Neil’s latest book Holiday Forever is now available in eBook format on both Amazon and Smashwords.

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Food is front page news and I think deservingly so, for food is the measure of both wealth and well-being.   Man is restrained by the stomachs capacity to eat only so much; on average about 1500 pounds of food per year.  Knowing this, and without craving, we should strive to derive as much good and pleasure as possible from the limited adventures of our stomach.  On the other hand human craving for money is incessant – for the wallet is a void that is never filled.  Mohamed Ali, when told he should not fight any longer because he certainly had enough money responded “Show me a man who thinks he has enough money.”  So for what good shall we derive from food?  Let’s begin with food for thought and food for the soul and how we celebrate food.

Meals are the food for the body;

Knowledge is the food for the mind;

Meditation is the food for the spirit;

Music is the food for the love of heart;

Dreams are the food for the consciousness;

Prayer is the food for the Almighty;

Love is the food for the living heart;

Thoughts are the food for the brain;

Colorful ink is the food for the pen;

Ideas are the food for the stories;

Truth is the food for the will;

Sun’s energy is the food for the plants;

Plants are the food for the living beings;

And then one man’s food can be another man’s poison!

-Ramesh T A

Food as a necessary part of our lives also plays an important part in how we celebrate. We use food for a variety of different purposes and the food that we choose to eat is selected because of a variety of different influences. There are both physiological and psychological reasons. If we are happy, we eat; if we are sad, we eat; boredom, depression, and loneliness are other reasons that we eat. We use food for social needs. When we have friends or family over we usually have some form of food to offer them, whether it is a light snack or a full meal.  Many of us like certain foods because we have been raised eating those foods. In many cases, whatever our parents eat or like to eat is what we eventually enjoy eating also. The region where we live as well as economics determines much of our food selection. If we lived in China we would eat a lot of rice because it is what is grown there. If we lived in a dairy community, milk products would be a large part of our diet. Our background and our environment play a great role in what and how we eat.

Food is also a part of our many celebrations, and is used and selected for many of the same reasons as mentioned earlier. However, the way that food is used in celebrations varies from home to home, state to state, and country to country. The celebrations that we have and the ways that we celebrate them are affected by our culture, and there are many different cultures around the world. For us to understand why different foods are used in different celebrations we need to understand a little about culture and how it could affect the foods we use. (Fieldhouse, 3)

1. Culture is a learned experience; we learn it from our families and the people around us. It is the same with food. The food that we use for celebrations in our own homes as children are more than likely to become a part of the foods we use to celebrate with as adults.

2. Culture involves change; the foods that we use to celebrate with may change as we change. Our tastes as well as our celebrations may not even be the same.

3. Every culture resists change; even though some of the foods we use may change, many will stay the same because of what we learned as children.

4. We are unconscious of our culture. We may use the foods that we do because it is just so much a part of our lives.

Along with our culture and the other reasons talked about before, the idea that gathering around a table, uniting as friends and family is an important aspect of food and celebrations. When we celebrate it is usually with peoplewe love and trust, or are trying to get to know. Food is a powerful element that can bring together many different people. The smell of food also is powerful in that it is able to bring old memories and events to mind (cinnamon=Christmas, a certain meal and its smell can remind a person of home).

I’d like to share a food event with you- a childhood memory from 1935. We lived on a farm near a highway and railway.  I was five years old, one of six children. While we were quite poor, we always had plenty to eat. The train went by twice a day.  We kids often counted the number of bums riding atop the boxcars.  Some of the Bums, walking the highway, would occasionally appear at our door asking for a handout.  Most often my dad would be out in the fields somewhere.  Mother was afraid of the bums; but never refused them a meal. One day when two hollow-eyed, starved out looking bums asked for something to eat; mother nervously ushered them to our kitchen table.  “All we have is bread and eggs.” She said, and slid an extra cast iron fry pan within her reach for protection – just in case.  The bum spokesperson – one without a full set of teeth, nodded approval.  As I watched, the two of them ate nearly a full loaf of homemade bread, a dozen fried eggs and demolished a full pot of coffee. When finished, the spokesperson arose, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and pointed to his chin.

“Good, good, good, full way up to here.” He said.

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