Monday, August 31, 2015

Handwritten: The Story of Dorothy Mengel and Wilson Moyer

“I’m leaving for church,” 11-year-old Dorothy Mengel called to her mother in the kitchen as she slammed the screen door shut. “I don’t want to be late . . .”

“You can help me with chores after lunch!” her mother called to Dorothy.

Although her full name was Dorothea Mildred Mengel, it seemed like such a big name for a young girl, born on a snowy January 15, 1919, in Rock, Pennsylvania. 

Every Sunday, Dorothy walked three miles to Brown’s Lutheran Church through the Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, hillside. Although her mother, Emma Krause Schwartz, stayed home to cook Sunday dinner, Dorothy tagged along with the neighbor lady, Mrs. Marburger. 

“I’m coming!” Dorothy called to Mrs. Marburger, as she ran down the dirt road after her.

The rolling, green Pennsylvania hillside surrounded Dorothy and Mrs. Marburger on their Sunday walk. Mrs. Marburger never said much, only that she hoped Dorothy made lots of friends at church and might have even met a special boy.

“How’s Wilson?” Mrs. Marburger asked Dorothy. “He might be the one for you . . .”

“He’s fine,” Dorothy said, blushing and shy, looking at the steeple on the wooden church. “Besides, I’m too young to think about grown-up things.”

She ran to the side door and headed to the Sunday school on the first floor.

“Make sure you get a rainbow pin,” her teacher said as she sat in the front row. 

“Where’s Wilson?” Dorothy whispered. He must be running late, she thought to herself.

Later, she hurried to the service on the second floor, where hymns rang from the rafters. In between saying her prayers, Dorothy noticed the unruly Wilson Moyer. Although he was three years older than she was, Dorothy thought he was the most handsome of all the boys at church. He had a crisp, autumn entrance into the world on October 9, 1916. Every now and then, Dorothy would pass him letters in the middle of church, and he would pass her notes back, which she kept between the pages of her Bible.  

“Will you please walk me home?” Dorothy wrote to Wilson on that particular day. She slipped him the note as she sat in the pew behind him. 

“Yes, I’ll walk you home,” Wilson wrote and slipped the note back to her when no one was looking. “Meet me by the apple tree after church, but I’ll have to run back to my house before my mom misses me.”

During church, Wilson sat in the pew with his brothers and sisters: Russel, Leo, Erma, Ruth, George, Joe, and Robert. May, Wilson’s younger sister, had died at age four of pneumonia. Wilson’s parents, Carrie A. Werner Moyer, and Robert D. Moyer, insisted the children join Brown’s Church Band to play at summer picnics—but the Moyers didn’t last long, because they had a hard time sitting still, which was not much different than during the church service. 

“Sssh,” the usher said to the entire pew of Moyer children, who were giggling. 

Born March 11, 1891, in Jefferson, Pennsylvania, Carrie was a farmer’s wife. Robert Moyer was born March 18, 1886, in Wayne Township. His parents were Lewis Moyer and Mary Hain Moyer, and Lewis was the twelfth child of Christian Meyer, who was born in Blsass Kovigreich, Frankreich, on February 2, 1803, during the era of French military leader and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Educated in excellent schools in his homeland, he got passage on a sailing vessel to America at age 18. In 1829, Christian came to Black Horse, Wayne Township, Pennsylvania, becoming a schoolteacher at the request of Valentine Brown, who offered him board and lodging in his own house. 

“Christian Meyer, your great-grandfather, was the first schoolteacher in the first school in Wayne Township,” Robert lectured the Moyer children. “He taught there for 41 years, and somewhere along the way, because of American accents, the family name changed to Moyer. He was also the ‘Singing Meister’ and organist at St. Paul’s Summer Hill Church for seven years. He was a farmer and a tombstone cutter. He married Catherine Fide and had thirteen children by her. He would expect you to grow up into fine young men and women.”

When Dorothy was five years old, her father, Howard Mengel, died of pneumonia on February 10, 1924. Born on March 5, 1892, in Auburn, Pennsylvania, Howard was her mother’s second husband. He was a carpenter who worked for the Reading Railroad. His parents were George Franklin Mengel and Rebecca Schullenberger Mengel. George Mengel’s mother, Ellen Moser, was a Native American, buried at Red Church Cemetery in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. 

“Did I tell you that I have a Native American ancestor?” Dorothy would say to Wilson. “I always thought that she was special, almost like Pocahontas.”

“It must be why you’re so pretty,” Wilson said, taking her hand and smiling. 

One day after church, Emma decided to tell Dorothy about her first husband, William Moyer, who had died in the coal mines. 

“Dorothy, now, don’t you tell a soul, but one afternoon, I was peeling potatoes for dinner and heard the screen door slam,” Emma said, crying at the kitchen table. “William, my first husband, appeared in a vision with his head bandaged. When I turned around, he wasn’t there anymore. Minutes later, the coal miners brought him home in a burlap bag, which they left on the porch.” 

Feeling the grief of her mother, Dorothy’s face filled with tears, and she ran for a handkerchief. Although Emma married for the third time to Monroe Schwartz, Dorothy felt out of place. Her older sister by nine years, Helen, still grieved the loss of her father, William, while Dorothy and her brothers, Floyd, Harold, and Reynold, grieved the loss of their father, Howard. Dorothy worried that her mother’s third husband, Monroe, would die at any moment, leaving her family and his own children, Marie, who was nine years younger than Dorothy, and Robert, who was eleven years younger than Dorothy, without a father as well. Then her mother would have seven children and no husband after three marriages. 

She tried to forget her foreboding feelings, but Dorothy always worried that something bad would happen. When Floyd, her older brother by two years, was 14, a tractor ran over his foot and caused an infection. Eventually, his foot became gangrene, and he died. 

“Please God, let something good happen,” Dorothy prayed in her heart. 

Although she spoke English, whenever she was worried, she mumbled in Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German that the whole family spoke. 

“There’s not going to be a thunderstorm tonight, is there?” Dorothy whispered to Wilson over the church pew. “You never know when lightning is going to strike . . .”

“I don’t think so,” Wilson said in a quiet voice. “Don’t worry so much.”

“I try not to worry, but just make sure you never take a bath during a lightning storm,” Dorothy said, looking at the sky through the stained-glass window.

When Dorothy was 12 years old, she was taking socks down from the outdoor clothesline with her mother. A storm was nearing, and lightning struck the aluminum pole and clothesline and threw Dorothy to the ground. She landed in a pile of stones and water. At the time, her mother was bent over placing laundry in the basket, and the lightning missed her mother. Emma ran to Dorothy, grabbed her, and rocked her in the rocking chair inside the house until she stopped crying. In fact, lightning was known to strike often in the Pennsylvania hillside. 

During another bad storm in a village near her home, a strong wind blew lightning through an open front door all the way to the back door, destroying a chocolate cake on the kitchen table to pieces. Bits of the cake splattered across the ceiling, cabinets, and windows, with dark stains still found months later. Still to this day, the chocolate explosion is legendary in the Pennsylvania countryside.

Despite all, Dorothy kept walking to church, praying to find true love. 

“Come on, Dorothy,” Wilson said, meeting her under the apple tree after church. “Mrs. Marburger told me before service that I should walk you home.”

“Do you like my rainbow pin?” Dorothy said, showing Wilson the treasure she had received in Sunday school. “Rainbows have something to do with promises. I tried to pay attention.”

“I like the music at church,” Wilson said. “The sermons are kind of long . . .”

As the children neared Dorothy’s home, Wilson picked her a wildflower from the field.

“This is for you,” Wilson said, handing the flower to Dorothy. 

“Thank you,” Dorothy said, watching her mother standing at the screen door. 

“Now, I’ve got to run home before my mom gets angry,” Wilson said, sprinting away.

During the week, Dorothy attended De Binders School House, a one-room school where she studied for eight years. With a woodstove and no running water, Dorothy received basic education. Wilson attended nearby Seigarts School House for eight years, also a one-room schoolhouse. At school, Dorothy played baseball and horseshoes for fun, but she missed Wilson and didn’t see him unless she walked to church with Mrs. Marburger.

“I wish Wilson and I were in the same school,” Dorothy said, doodling on the chalkboard. She tried to make elegant cursive letters and perfect her signature.

After graduating the eighth grade, Dorothy did housework for the wealthy families in Schuylkill County, which often made her feel inferior and less-than her potential. Her favorite employer was Miss Margaret, who always gave her extra money for her hard work. When Wilson graduated eighth grade, he started working in St. Clair for the Reading Railroad car shop, where he built railroad boxcars that carried coal. As Dorothy got older, one of her friends bought a car, and a group of the teenagers piled in the car to go to dances and movies on Saturday nights. Of course, Dorothy was happiest when Wilson came with them. 

“Could I have this dance, Dorothy?” Wilson asked, taking Dorothy’s hand at one of the dances.

“I would love to dance with you,” Dorothy said, walking on her tiptoes to the dance floor. Her below-the-knee frock danced in rhythm to the music as Dorothy moved.

“Hitler has still been on the prowl in Europe,” Wilson told her. 

“I know,” Dorothy said, closing her eyes and resting her head on Wilson’s shoulder. “Things always seem to go wrong, no matter what I do.”

“We have to focus on what’s going right,” Wilson said, taking her hand and twirling her. 

Despite the war, which started in 1939, Dorothy, 22, and Wilson, 25, were officially dating. Dorothy expected that Wilson, like all the other young men, would be drafted into World War II. Then one day it came: a letter from the United States military requesting that Wilson report to Pottsville for military duty where the men would then be shipped to Scranton, and then to basic training. Dorothy was devastated. All her hopes of marrying Wilson seemed to be crushed. Wilson had to leave for the war, while Dorothy was forced to get a higher-paying job in a factory putting buttons and snaps on baby clothes. 

“I’ve had enough of buttons and snaps for the rest of my life,” Dorothy said, folding the baby clothes into piles. With each button and snap, all Dorothy could think about was having her own children with Wilson, but he was now supposed to fight Hitler. “I hate Hitler,” she said. 

At least Wilson had military leave and still managed to come back for occasional Saturday night dances, where he romanced Dorothy. 

“Where are you going tonight, Dorothy?” Emma said to her daughter. “Are you going out with Wilson again? I don’t know if he’s good enough for you. Men are so much trouble.”

“Talk to you later, Mom,” Dorothy said, running out the front door. “He’s waiting for me.”

Dorothy tried her best not to be discouraged by her mother’s grief.  

“I won’t be gone forever,” Wilson said, dancing with Dorothy. “The war won’t last too long. Unless you want to get married before I leave?”

“What if you die? Just like with my mother’s first two husbands,” Dorothy said. “Since you’re leaving for the war, I doubt Monroe, my stepfather, will allow me to marry you. Just promise to write me all the time. It will seem like you’ve been gone forever.”

“Don’t think the worst, Dorothy. I’ll write you as often as I can,” Wilson said. “You’re my girlfriend. When I get back from the war, you’ll be my wife. We’re going to get married. I promise.” 

Then Wilson kissed Dorothy, and they danced all night.

After two years of military training, the worst news came when Wilson told Dorothy that he would be sent overseas, and there would be no military leave. 

“I’m never going to see Wilson again,” Dorothy told her sister Helen, crying. 

Helen handed Dorothy a handkerchief to dry her eyes. Before World War II started, Helen had married Charlie Grim, who worked for Pennsylvania Power and Light. Because of his age, he wasn’t drafted for the war. It seemed unfair to Dorothy that Helen’s dreams were not shattered, but Dorothy’s were. Helen had no idea what to say to her.  

For almost four years, Wilson wrote Dorothy love letters. Every time she got a letter in the mail, she remembered passing notes at church and wished Wilson was that close again. She usually received a letter every other week or once a month. 

“Did the mail come yet today?” Dorothy asked, running to the mailbox and sorting through the letters. “Oh, there’s a letter from Wilson . . .”

She ran to her bedroom, opened the letter with a knife, and never showed it to anyone.

Then she quickly sat down at her desk and spent all night replying to his letter. She made sure to send her letter out the next morning, running to the postman before he made it to her mailbox. She smiled at the postman, holding the letter close to her heart. 

“Please give this letter to Wilson with special care,” she said, handing it to the postman. 

“I will, Dorothy,” he said, grinning, placing it in the front pocket of his leather bag.

Several days, Dorothy stood before an empty mailbox, with the postman shaking his head, and she was sincerely concerned Wilson’s letters went lost or missing. 

When more than two weeks passed without a letter, Dorothy worried so much that she went to Brown’s Lutheran Church to pray. 

“I just can’t sing a hymn today,” she cried to God. “Wilson is not here. I’m alone . . .”

Although she went to Saturday night dances with her group of friends, she had no other boyfriends. She sat in the corner with her girlfriends, looked at Wilson’s picture, and watched the other couples dance. Despite Wilson’s promise to her, she wondered if he had other girlfriends overseas and hoped that they would still get married, like Wilson promised. 

Every Sunday, she would now walk to church by herself, since Mrs. Marburger was too old to walk with her anymore. Dorothy also wrote letters to her brothers, Harold and Reynold, who were drafted to World War II as well. 

“Dorothy, why aren’t you married?” her supervisor at the button and snap factory asked her. “If I were you, I wouldn’t wait for Wilson to come back from the war. What if he dies overseas? Then you’ll never have any chance at all to get out of here.”

“Leave me alone,” Dorothy said, running into the bathroom, crying. “Why, oh, why?”

On February 8, 1943, when Wilson was overseas, Dorothy’s mother, Emma, died of a sudden stroke, leaving Dorothy more heartbroken than ever and responsible for running the home for her stepfather Monroe. She spent countless hours taking care of her younger siblings, Bobby, and Marie, dreading that something might go wrong at any minute. From time to time, Foster, Monroe’s son by his first deceased wife, visited to console Dorothy.

“Do you really want to get married anyhow?” Monroe said to Dorothy. “I know you have your heart set on marrying Wilson, but I need your help at the house. Marriage can really be a lot of trouble. Just look at your mother, she had three husbands. Wilson could die any day now in the war . . . and then what would you do?”

She stacked Wilson’s letters in a shoebox and shoved them under her bed. When she missed him the most, she reread each of the letters in order of their dates.

“Upon arriving in Europe, I’ve been serving in England in the United States engineering department,” Wilson wrote Dorothy, looking out the window as lightning flashed in the rainy British sky. It reminded him of the lightning in the Pennsylvania countryside. 

“I’ve been helping organize the rebuilding of bombed bridges, where my department sends materials on boats to France and beyond for reconstruction,” he wrote. “I haven’t seen your brothers Harold or Reynold, but I’ve gotten a few letters from them. I think about you every night, and I know we’ll soon be together. I’d cross the rainbow bridge to be with you forever.”

“Harold has been in combat in Africa, where he had a minor wound in the knee with shrapnel from a bomb,” Dorothy wrote to Wilson. “I’ve been praying for all of you. Please come home. I miss you terribly.”

As the war progressed, Wilson continued working in the United States engineering department in England. Despite Harold’s wound, he served in Sicily, Italy, England, and Germany. Reynold fought and then barely lived through the Battle of Iwo Jima. 

“I think we’re close to the Nazis giving up,” Wilson wrote to Dorothy. “Soon we’ll be married, and this will be behind us . . .”

“I hope you’re right,” Dorothy corresponded to Wilson. “President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill borrowed you from me for a while, but it’s only for a while.”

Then word came across the news radio: “All forces under German Nazi control ceased active operations at 23:01 hours Central European Time on May 8, 1945.”

“As I’m sure you know by now, the Nazis surrendered,” Wilson wrote to Dorothy. “I thought we would be coming right home, but my department is traveling to Marseille, France, on the train. Then we board a U.S. military ship and sail to the Panama Canal. The ship heads for Japan, where I’m worried that I might face man-to-man combat. Up until now, I’ve only been rebuilding bridges. I’ve heard it might be a costly invasion of the mainland. I’ll write you as many letters as I can from the ship. Tell everyone to pray. I’ll be home soon.”

As soon as Dorothy read Wilson’s letter, she ran to Brown’s Lutheran Church in tears. She threw herself on the church pew, sobbing and demanding that God send Wilson home.

“How can this be? The Nazis surrendered! Now, he has to go to Japan?” she cried. 

She spent all night on the church pew praying until the morning sun broke through the stained-glass windows. It almost looked like a rainbow, which reminded Dorothy of her Sunday school pin that she had kept clasped to her Bible with the notes Wilson wrote her as a child. Despite her puffy eyes, she managed to get herself to work on time that morning, still putting buttons and snaps on baby clothes. 

Weeks later, after arriving at the Panama Canal, Wilson received word that the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war was finally over. Japan surrendered to the Allies on September 2, 1945. 

“Good news is that the war is over!” Wilson wrote Dorothy from the banks of the Panama Canal. “I still have to head to the Japanese Islands for clean-up efforts, but I won’t face combat. We have to help send American weapons in Japan back to the United States.”

More excited than ever to return to Dorothy, Wilson wrote her on colorful Japanese origami paper. He folded two swans from origami paper and flattened them in the envelope.

“Several nights, I’ve gone to bed with muddy boots due to heavy Japanese rains,” Wilson wrote Dorothy. “I was so tired, and my boots were so muddy that I couldn’t get them off.”

After months in Japan cleaning up the devastation of the war, Wilson flew back to California, then to Indian Town Gap in Pennsylvania to be discharged from the military. 

“Did Wilson say he would be back soon?” Dorothy said, stopping by his parents’ home. “Any word from him? My family still doesn’t have a telephone, so it’s hard for him to reach me.”

“Not yet, Dorothy,” Wilson’s father said. “We’ll let you know as soon as he arrives.”

The day after Wilson returned in February 1946, he came to Dorothy with his family, and both families, including Dorothy’s stepfather, Monroe, wept in tears. Sitting beside her at Dorothy’s house, Wilson asked her to marry him, and they married on June 22, 1946, at Brown’s Lutheran Church in Summit Station, Pennsylvania, with a rainbow stained-glass window in the church. During the reception after the wedding, Dorothy’s brother Bobby and her bridesmaid Jane Krater snuck into Dorothy and Wilson’s wedding-night bedroom and threw Rice Krispies breakfast cereal on the bed. Snap, crackle, and pop!

“I’ll finally have my own home and children,” Dorothy said, crying. “I’ll never clean someone else’s house or put buttons and snaps on someone else’s baby clothes.”

“I told you that I would keep my promise,” Wilson said to Dorothy. 

In the years to come, Wilson worked at Alcoa Aluminum Company, and the couple lived in a two-story house with a wrap-around porch and attic full of endless treasures. They raised a son and daughter, who never experienced the sacrifice and danger of World War II. In a very true sense, Wilson and the other noble men of the Second World War saved the world. 

For her entire life, Dorothy didn’t show anyone the love letters—except her daughter’s daughter. She gave her Bible and the love letters to her granddaughter after Wilson had passed away September 16, 2004, in Reading, Pennsylvania, and Dorothy was sure that she would also soon die. Although the letters were a secret, she told her granddaughter to keep them as a promise of true love—which conquers all even in times of war and great peril. 


Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters

Dedicated to my grandparents Dorothy and Wilson Moyer.
Dorothy Moyer, January 15, 1919-May 26, 2017. 
Wilson Moyer, October 9, 1916-September 16, 2004.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Barnyard Animals and the Big City: The Story of Roberta the Chicken and the Great Escape

“I’m flying the coop!” Roberta the Chicken squawked, kicking her pen door open. “Using cheap plastic straw on the farm is the last straw! I’m getting away from Farmer Bosworth. I’m going to the Big City and leaving the Barnyard behind. Anyone brave enough can come with me! There’s probably more real straw in the city than this cheap farm.”

As Roberta strutted through the Barnyard, the animals popped their heads from their cages. Like most mornings, Farmer Bosworth paced through the Barnyard with his shotgun and cup of hot coffee with whisky. 

“What? You’re going where? Why would you do that?” Olga the Pig snorted, making oinking sounds. “Farmer Bosworth is crazy mean, but do you really think the Big City is better?” grunted the pig. 

“Once you get there, are you really going to stay?” Gobbler the Turkey gurgled, gobbling at the chicken. 

“I’m losing my feathers in this Barnyard!” Roberta clucked. “I need to spread my wings and branch out!”

“If I go to the Big City, everyone will try to make me into a wool sweater,” Ezequiel the Sheep bleated. 

“Yeah, they’ll try to make me into bacon, and Roberta into fried chicken!” Olga the Pig oinked, curling her tail.

“If you think that’s bad, the whole neighborhood will want milk from me,” Apple Dumplings the Cow mooed. 

“Every Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims would try to make me into flaming turkey wings,” Gobbler the Turkey gobbled. 

“After I’m used for goat cheese, I’d have to get out my horns and hooves to protect myself!” Nanny the Goat warned. 

“I can stop traffic at a couple intersections, but after that I’m not sure what to do!” Stallion the Horse neighed.

“Please don’t leave! We’ll miss you,” hee-hawed Jack the Donkey. “We just might have to go with you . . .”

“What do you mean? Who exactly? We are going where?” Olga the Pig snorted. “I don’t want to end up in an omelet.”

“If Farmer Bosworth has anything to do with it, you might end up in an omelet anyhow, Olga,” Roberta clucked, sighing.

“Listen, I can’t stay here anymore, looking out the window and dreaming of the Big City,” the Chicken chirped. “I called Sam the Taxi Driver, and he’s coming any minute. If you want to pile in the car, go ahead. Maybe ride in the trunk!” 

Everyone who knew Sam the Taxi Driver knew how much he hated the ruthless Farmer Bosworth. 

“I grew up spending summers on my grandparents’ farm, and I loved their animals so much!” he told Roberta. 

“I can’t stand the way Farmer Bosworth treats all of you! It’s almost like the struggle in Animal Farm by George Orwell. All animals are supposed to be created equal. I’m gonna have to get you outta here one day!”

So, it seemed to Roberta that there was no time like the present to take Sam’s offer to make the great escape. 

“I can’t let you do this alone!” Jack the Donkey brayed, kicking the dirt, and swinging his tail at the flies. 

“For all the times that Farmer Bosworth called me nasty names, I should have trampled him,” Jack eeyored. 

“I’m leaving with Roberta,” the Donkey hee-hawed. “Who else is coming with us? Farmer Bosworth’s days are done!”

“Here comes the Big City!” the Barnyard animals cheered, taking last gulps of water and food from their troughs. 

“Eat one more time for the hunger that comes!” Roberta the Chicken clucked, swallowing the last of her moldy hen feed. 

As the fuming yellow taxi pulled up to the Barnyard, Sam the Taxi Driver swung open the passenger door. 

The Barnyard Animals all piled in—Roberta, Gobbler, Ezequiel, Nanny, Olga, and Jack, until there was no more room.

“I’m taking the trunk,” mooed Apple Dumplings the Cow, who kicked it open. “I’ll have a good view of the road!” 

“I’m guess I’ll have to run beside you,” whinnied Stallion the Horse. “I’m too big for the taxi!”

“Ouch! I’m caught!” Olga oinked, as Sam shut the taxi door, catching her curly tail in the door. 

“Roberta, you didn’t tell me that the Barnyard was coming with you!” Sam said, freeing Olga’s tail. “The price tripled!”

“Don’t worry!” Roberta clucked. “I swiped some money from Farmer Bosworth. You’ll have an extra big tip!”

“Wait a minute!” yelled Farmer Bosworth, slamming his home’s screen door and running toward the taxi with his gun. 

“Where are y’all going?” he screamed. “What about my eggs, Roberta? You can’t leave me here alone in the Barnyard!”

“Leave before Farmer Bosworth shoots his shot gun!” Roberta squawked. “I’ll give you the money! Get us out of here!”

As the taxi driver peeled out of the Barnyard, Farmer Bosworth shot his smoking gun toward the animals.

“He was always a bad shot!” Roberta chirped to the taxi driver, emptying all her money on his front seat. Baam! Psssst! The taxi slumped to the side, as the right back tire was hit by one of Farmer Bosworth’s bullets. 

“Who cares if the taxi is hit? We can still make it to the Big City! It’s just a bump and slump!” Roberta clucked. 

“What did you get me into?” the taxi driver cussed, adjusting his hat. “You’re buying me a new tire in the Big City.”

“I’ll find you in the Big City!” Farmer Bosworth threatened, shooting his last bullet from his shotgun. “Mark my words! You might get away from me for now, but I’m bringing you back to the Barnyard! The Big City is full of creeps!”

“You’re the creep!” Roberta clucked. “Who would shoot a shot gun at a taxi full of animals? Someone could get hurt!”

“He looks pretty serious!” Apple Dumplings the Cow mooed from the trunk. “We’re going to have to hide out.”

“I have friends in the Big City,” the Taxi Driver mumbled, rolling down the window to let in some fresh air. “I’ll find you a place to live, but you’ll have to freshen up first, and you can’t eat the neighbors’ potted plants.”

“I’ve heard that I should stay away from the holes in the streets,” Roberta chirped. “Potholes? Do plants grow there?”

“Oh, I’ll have to teach you everything I know,” Sam the Taxi Driver sighed. “At least you’ll get away from that farmer.”

Thus started the days of Roberta the Chicken and the Barnyard Animals’ hilarious adventures in the Big City. Of course, Farmer Bosworth followed them all over the City with his shotgun, but he was never able to catch them. 

Sam the Taxi Driver had too many friends in low and high places in the Big City—and soon so did Roberta the Chicken and her friends. 


Copyright 2019 Jennifer Waters

Dedicated to Great Uncle Robbie Moyer, who had many chickens and barnyard animals.

The Man Next Door: The Story of Coral Graf and the Neighborhood Pennies

“No, I don’t want to buy anything from you!” Coral Graf said to The Man Next Door, hiding her pennies in the corner.

With the chain on the apartment door, the nine-year-old girl peered at her neighbor through the three-inch opening.

“Please leave me alone,” Coral said, closing the door. “I have other people who need my pennies more than you do . . .”

Earlier that morning, The Man Upstairs dropped hundreds of pennies into the tin can under the apartment’s heating vent. Like always, Coral promised The Man Upstairs she would do good with his money, never keeping it for herself.

After her previous problems with The Man Downstairs stealing her pennies, she shoved a bookshelf over the floor vent. So, The Man Downstairs could never again stretch his hand through the floor vent and swipe the money from the tin can. 

Now she was not going to let The Man Next Door bully her into buying all kinds of frivolous junk that she didn’t need.

As Coral shut the door, her mother called from her parents’ bedroom: “Who’s at the door, Honey? Is it the Milkman?”

“Oh, it’s The Man Next Door on his weekly Saturday morning sales call,” Coral said. “I’m sure he’ll be back . . .”

“If he comes back, get the frying pan from the kitchen, stick it through the door, and flatten him!” Mrs. Graf yelled. 

“Don’t you give him a dime! Oh, I mean a penny!” Mr. Graf said. “The Man Across the Street needs money for rent.”

“We’re going back to sleep,” Mrs. Graf called to Coral. “Have some desserts for breakfast and watch cartoons!”

Coral grabbed sweets from the refrigerator, adjusted the TV antenna, and turned-on Saturday morning cartoons.

She filled her stomach with desserts from her father’s deli: chocolate babka, chocolate-covered matzo, and honey cake.

“Not again!” Coral said, when there was a knock on the door halfway through her favorite cartoon TV show.

Making sure the door chain was secure, Coral opened the door a smidge, only to find The Man Next Door had returned. 

“What do you want?” Coral said, running to get the frying pan from the kitchen. “I’m never giving you my pennies!”

She shoved the black iron frying pan through the door. “I have the family frying pan, and I’ll use it!” Coral said. 

Then she threw a handful of Hamantaschen cookies, Jewish fruit-filled butter cookies, through the door.

“Go away! You’re jealous because The Man Upstairs gives me pennies, and he doesn’t give you anything!” she yelled. “You’re almost worse than The Man Downstairs who steals. You fib to people by selling them garbage!”

Coral yelled so loudly that the entire apartment complex heard their conversation and defended her. 

“I’m never buying your scam artist garbage again!” one neighbor yelled. “Don’t leave anymore pamphlets at my door!”

“Shut him down!” another neighbor yelled. “He woke me up this morning, and I never get to sleep in . . .”

“Coral gives her pennies to people who need them!” a third neighbor said. “Why does he want money from her?”

Throwing one last Hamantaschen at The Man Next Door, Coral slammed the door and went back to watching cartoons. By next Saturday morning, the apartment building was quiet and peaceful, and The Man Next Door ended his sales calls. 

Instead, Coral went about the neighborhood helping others, making sure The Man Around the Corner had hot coffee. In case The Man Next Door came back, Coral kept the frying pan handy, but she thought the cookies did more to scare him away. 


Copyright 2015 Jennifer Waters

Sequel to "The Man Upstairs: The Story of Coral Graf and Pennies from a Tin Can" (1/3/15) and "The Man Downstairs: The Story of Coral Graf and Her Missing Pennies" (7/13/15).

Dedicated to my grandmother, Augusta Renner Graf Waters. 


Annabelle is determined to have a Christmas Tree that lives forevernow if she can just convince her Scroogey father.


Christmas really can last all year longif you have enough courage and determination. Twelve-year-old Annabelle Cunningham wants a big Christmas tree, but her father thinks his Santa Claus collection is enough and says the tree must go the day after Christmas. She defiantly selects a big tree, decorates it beautifully, and she and her parents celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together. Defying her father’s threat to chop up and burn the tree, Annabelle plants it right in front of the house with all its decorations. The neighbors gather round the tree, and when her father walks out with his axe, they urge him to put it away. Annabelle vows it’s going to be Christmas all year long. Her father sighs, looks at her and the neighbors in utter disbelief, and retreats. Annabelle celebrates Christmas all year long with appropriate holiday decorations—and eventually so does her formerly Scroogey father.

The determination of 12-year-old Annabelle Cunningham makes Christmas last all year long. She wants a big Christmas tree, but her father thinks his Santa Claus collection is enough. Annabelle’s mother reminds her that Mr. Cunningham never celebrated Christmas as a child and asks Annabelle to be kind to her father.

As Annabelle and her father drive out to the Christmas tree farm, she hums “O Christmas Tree,” ignoring her father’s humbug. She selects a tall, plump evergreen, and her father swings his axe. As the tree falls, the lot manager pulls it all the way to the truck on a sled. Annabelle climbs in the front seat, reminding her father not to act like Scrooge.

When Mr. Cunningham stops in the driveway, he threatens to chop the Christmas tree for stove wood, but Annabelle insists it will be the Christmas tree that lives forever. With her mother’s help, she pulls the tree all the way into the living room, attaches a tree stand, waters it and carefully arranges the red tree skirt. Stringing caramel popcorn and cranberries, Annabelle watches “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and sings along to “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold.” The decorated tree stands proud and tall all Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day. It hovers over the presents as they are wrapped and unwrapped and re-wrapped to give away to someone else. Of course, Annabelle would never give a Christmas gift away, but Mr. Cunningham is too stingy to buy Christmas gifts in the first place. One year he gave Annabelle a gift she had given him—a singing reindeer head. As her father turns off the lights on the Christmas tree, he reminds her that he is throwing the Christmas tree in the wood stove first thing in the morning. She vows he will not burn her tree.

Early the next morning Annabelle drags the Christmas tree into the front yard and plants it with all its decorations right in front of the house. The neighbors gather round. As Mr. Cunningham yells that the electric bill is going to be enormous, the neighbors all beg him to put his axe away. It’s going to be Christmas all year long. Infuriated, her father sighs, looks at her and the neighbors in utter disbelief, and retreats back inside the house. Annabelle enjoys Christmas all year long with various seasonal decorations on the evergreen tree. So does her Scroogey father.

Copyright 2022 Jennifer Waters