Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Salt and Pepper," A Fictional Story Based on a True Friendship


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“How did the cheerleading try-outs go, Tess?” her mother asked.

“I think I did well…and I made a new friend.”

“What happened?”

“You know I have been trying to do a jump-split. I saw a girl who was doing it perfectly, and I asked her for help. She found the mistake I was making, and after that, they were easy.”

“That was especially generous since the two of you were both competing for places on the cheerleading team. Who is she?”

“Becky Clinton. She’s new in the school, very nice, tall, athletic, pretty, and Black or African-American or whatever we are supposed to say.”

Both girls made the cheerleading team, although Becky’s parents later had her quit to spend more time on her studies. They emphasized education for all three of the Clinton children. They had even held Becky back a year before starting elementary school, too, so she was older than average when she graduated, near the top of her class, as did Tess.

Becky’s parents emphasized career goals for her. “Keep your eye on the ball,” her dad said, and he did not mean the basketball, football or baseball in use by the school teams for which the girls would be cheering, but keeping focused on the goals of education and the career opportunities a good education would enable. For a minority student, excelling in school might prove to be very important.

Becky’s talents and Tess’s were somewhat different, as were their interests, but they were to remain best friends throughout middle school and high school. They were affectionately called “salt and pepper” by some of their buddies, because they were different but similar and went together so well. “Variety is the spice of life” and the two spiced each other’s life.

Each was happy for the successes of the other, without jealousy. They did not expect nor require each other to be the same. “Play the cards you are dealt,” Mr. Williams urged, “go with your strengths, strengthen your weaknesses.” Becky’s parents welcomed Tess and Tess’s parents welcomed Becky, valuing their friendship.

If the girls could have seen into the future, they would have found that they were still friends fifty years after graduation. Becky went to a religious college in Georgia and then got her Master’s Degree in Education from a college in Michigan, while Tess went to a local community college and then became a nurse, a profession she maintained until retirement. One became a mother; the other did not. Both women cared for their elderly mothers at home. They never lost touch with each other.

Becky’s generous help that first day provided the spark that kindled a life-long warm relationship. “You get only one chance to make a good first impression,” her mother would say. This held true. For the pair, it was nearly love at first sight and stayed that way despite the ups and downs of their marriages and careers.

Some lives, like some dishes, are best when spiced with both salt and pepper.


From our series of 50 instructional stories for young readers.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Robert F. Starbuck died a hero in Vietnam on February 4, 1967. Only 25, he was a sergeant of an elite RECON Marine detachment holding a hill against overwhelming odds. He was awarded the Silver Star, one of our armed forces’ highest decorations for bravery.

Bob and I were football teammates, high school classmates, and friends. He was very likeable and decent. His death must have been shattering to his family. When I learned, much later than 1967, of his death, I pondered what I could do in his memory. Moving back to Walden, I found that our high school, Valley Central, held an annual awards ceremony for members of the athletic teams. I established the Robert F. Starbuck Captain’s Award in his honor, going each year to the captain of the football team, in recognition of Bob’s leadership, courage, strength, and service to our country.

Recently, a memorial ceremony was held in honor of our local servicemen who died. There is never enough we can do to thank such people.

The story of Bob’s last battle is one of those in the book, Honor the Warrior: the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam, by William L. Myers, published in 2000. Mr. Myers dedicates his book to the nearly 15,000 members of the U.S. Marine Corps who died in Viet Nam. His dedication includes this excerpt from a poem by Laurence Binyon:

But they shall not grow old

As we who are left grow old.

Age will not weary them nor the years condemn,

But at the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

We do remember.




Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Moving Day," A #YA Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

The school year had just ended. Rick and Tess reached the home of their friends, Brian and Alice Gladstone, early that sad Saturday morning, at 7a.m. Their mother, Mrs. Gladstone, had gotten a better job in a city a thousand miles away, and the three of them were moving, with the help of friends. Using a moving company was too expensive for them. Mr. Gladstone had died earlier that year.

There were several heavy items; Rick and Brian moved them out of the apartment and onto the rented van. Mostly, though, boxes and boxes of “stuff” needed to be lugged out and put onto the van. Moving ended up taking much longer than expected because a couple of people who had said they would come to help did not show up. The Gladstones thanked Rick and Tess warmly and finally drove away. Although each of them hoped to keep in touch, by email, telephone, letters, each knew that distant friendships are hard to maintain.

On their way home, Rick and Tess talked about Brian and Alice and how sorry they were to see them go. Something else troubled them.

“Rick, why didn’t the other people who said they’d help come?”

“People often offer what they fail to deliver. Sometimes they really do intend to do it, but something comes up and they can’t. Other times they are just saying it to make themselves look good or make you feel good, but really they do not plan to live up to their promises.”

Tess commented, “Maybe they find it too sad to come when someone is leaving.”

“That could be. Also, they would be doing a favor for people who were unlikely to be able to return it.”

“How about ‘pay it forward,’ Rick?”

“Nice idea…doing onto others as you would have them do unto you, the scriptural Golden Rule. You can think doing good deeds is a good idea but not want to make the effort when the time comes and the deeds are needed.”

“If we moved, do you think we would get help?”

“Probably, although Mom and Dad would likely just hire a moving company. The people Mom and Dad have helped in the past might well show up or help in other ways. The Gladstones were fairly new here and had not made that many friends yet.”

“I hope their mom’s new job works out.”

“Right. If it doesn’t, they will be in a new place, without friends and without a job. They will have ‘jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.’ I hope that doesn’t happen.”

The Williams pair made it home for a late lunch. Their mother asked how it went.

“Fine, Mom, but some people who said they’d help didn’t,” Tess replied.

“That’s too bad. You learn who your true friends are when you ask for something. Some people will promise you the world, but not deliver. An old saying is, ‘Actions speak louder than words.’”

That Saturday, “Moving Day,” left Rick and Tess a little sadder and a lot wiser.


One of a series of fifty instructive short stories for young readers.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"The Honor Flight," A #YA Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

Why were all the members of the Williams family leaving home at 7:15 that Saturday morning? The were headed toward the local airport to join a ceremony for World War II veterans who were going to be flown for a day trip to Washington, DC, an “Honor Flight” organized by community leaders to thank the vets for their service.

Mr. Williams, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, wanted to honor fellow vets of all wars and had promised the town’s mayor that he and his family would be at the airport for the 8 a.m. ceremony. They left home early to be sure not to get caught in traffic and to arrive in time to lend a hand if help were needed.

The mayor greeted the Williamses warmly and introduced them to the local state senator, himself a veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War.

Rick said, “Dad, I didn’t know the state senator also knew you.”

“Yes, he has given the Fire Department some help on a couple of local projects. He seems to know everybody, and the mayor knows almost as many.”

Promptly at 8 a.m., the cavalcade arrived at the airport: a police car with flashing lights led the way, followed by dozens of motorcyclists, with group names like “Rolling Thunder” and “Biker Leathernecks.”

A hundred or so spectators, including the Williamses, lined the approach to the passenger entrance. A brass band made up of younger veterans played patriotic marching music.

“Rick, what’s that called?” asked Tess, pointing to a horn that wrapped around one of the band members.

“It’s a Sousaphone, a tuba for marching, named after John Philip Sousa, who composed lots of marches.” Rick would know, being a tuba player himself.

Mrs. Williams, a teacher who rarely missed an opportunity to teach, said to Tim, “Do you see something unusual about the band? What do all the instruments have in common?”

Tim thought. “They are all kinds of horns, only horns.”

“Right, dear, that’s why this kind of group is called a ‘brass band,’ as horns are often made of brass. The smallest are the trumpets and there are trombones and the largest, those two Sousaphones.”

The buses with the elderly vets stopped and the men got off slowly, often with help. They were almost all 90 years old or older. The busses had lifts to let the few who were in wheelchairs go from bus to street level. The crowd ranged in age from a few two-year olds to some in their nineties, and all ages in between, probably a few spouses, many friends, and lots of sons, daughters, grand-children and great-grandchildren…and all applauding the men as they slowly made their way into the airport. Applause and music marked their progress, with all of it being captured by amateur photography and filming.

Once inside, the vets were seated and the crowd continued to grow, reaching about a thousand. They were led in the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” joined in prayer and heard several speakers thank the World War II veterans for their service, and acknowledge the service of the other former military personnel and their families.

While returning home, the kids were asked by Mr. Williams what they learned from the trip.

“Those were very brave men,” said Tim.

“We owe them a lot,” added Tess.

“Our freedom didn’t come for free,” concluded Rick.


One of our 50 instructional short stories for school children.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"The Bigger They Are," a #YA Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

Near the end of their junior year, members of the junior class ran for president of the student government, to run the organization in the senior year. Rick’s friend Pete was running and was likely to win. At first, no other junior seemed willing to run, which made Rick think maybe he would try.

In each of the prior three years, Pete had been class president and Rick class vice-president. Not best friends, but good friends, both guys seemed satisfied with this. Rick had second thoughts now.

“Dad, I’m thinking of running against Pete for student government president. Do you think I should?”

“If it wouldn’t make an enemy of Pete, why not? You might even ask him.”

The next day, Rick did just that, and Pete said he did not mind at all, that it would make it more interesting. Rick was pleased, although he got the feeling that Pete was confident he would beat Rick easily.

Both guys were athletes, Rick a good player on the basketball team, Pete a star on the football team. Both were good students, though Rick was better. Both guys were popular, Pete somewhat more so than Rick. Both had roles in the Junior Play. Rick tooted the tuba in the band and Pete sang tenor in the chorus. Item by item, they were closely matched, although Pete’s history of being class president every year gave him an edge over Rick.

“Why do you want to run, Rick?” his mother asked him.

“”I’d like to be first this time, rather than second, and it would look good on my college applications. I do think I would be good at the job. I’m better organized and work somewhat harder. Also, it seems a shame not to have the election be a contest.”

An assembly was held, with both candidates giving short speeches, each offering a few suggestions for improvement of the student government organization. Rick used humor. Pete used charm. Both received warm applause.

Tess decided to help Rick, which he appreciated. She drew some posters with their campaign slogan, “Pick Rick,” and a list of his school activities and his proposals. Pete had posters, too, “Pete’s neat,“ not quite as well done, but not bad.

The morning of the election, Rick met the incoming students at the school front door, shaking hands, handing out “Pick Rick” fliers. Pete was nowhere to be found. In fact, Rick heard that Pete thought he would beat Rick without much effort. While some students thought Rick was taking the election too seriously, more thought it showed that he really wanted the position and would do a good job.

The election was held Thursday. At dinner that night, the family discussed it. The results would be announced the next day.

“Rick, you put in some extra effort, you ‘went the extra mile,’ in campaigning, and I think it will pay off,” his mother said, patting him on the shoulder. “They say, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’”

“Thanks, Mom.”

His father said, “We’ll see. Pete has been Big Man on Campus these past few years, class president each time, a football star, too. Maybe he has gotten over-confident.”

Friday morning, the announcement came over the school intercom, “The President of the Student Government Association for next year will be…Rick Williams.”

Many students, including Pete, congratulated Rick, who was elated.

Once home, Rick rushed to tell his parents the outcome. His dad smiled and said, “The saying is ‘the bigger they are…the harder they fall.’ Congratulations, champ.”

Rick’s mother hugged him but cautioned, “Don’t get too cocky, Rick, remember the Bible warning: ‘pride goeth before the fall.’”


One of our series of 50 instructional short stories for students. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ava Gardner's Daughter? No.

3 May 2014

Letters Department
Wallkill Valley Times
300 Stony Brook Court
Newburgh, NY 12550

Ava Gardner’s Daughter?

The Wallkill Valley Times [November 7, 2012] covered the story of my co-author’s belief that she is movie queen Ava Gardner’s unacknowledged daughter. One goal of our book was to obtain cooperation from a member of the Gardner family in having DNA testing done to substantiate this belief.

In connection with a symposium held this April by the Ava Gardner Museum and Trust, DNA comparison was made between a sample provided by my co-author and one provided by an Ava Gardner nephew. To our utter surprise, the testing showed no match. We had agreed to withdraw our book [Ava Gardner’s Daughter?] if there were no match, and we have.

My co-author is seeking help in determining why her birth record was sealed when she was fifteen and why attempts to unseal it have been rebuffed by the courts. These two facts are not in doubt.

From this experience, I learned that the combination of “eyewitness testimony” and circumstantial evidence, while persuasive, can lead to erroneous conclusions, something already well understood by police, detectives, lawyers, and others involved in the criminal justice system.

Ava Gardner, who lived a glamorous, successful, adventurous, and often-admirable life, deserves to have this cleared up. We apologize.     


Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.