(Should you not yet have read Part One of this little hospital memoir, you may want to check it out first.)

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

“Let’s get out of here!” The teen-aged son of Dr. B appeared every bit as worried as the rest of us, seeing as the empty hospital’s front entrance had been locked again by the intruders, the drug room door was wide open and a light was burning inside. And someone had called for the elevator but failed to ascend to the fourth floor where we had been about to call for the lift.

With a recent break-in and theft at the recently-abandoned facility in Carrollton Missouri, the 19-year-old’s suggestion appeared to have great merit. My little sister Laura and I thought the idea sound. Thunder rumbled outside, the nighttime storm continuing unabated.

Everyone spoke in whispers. “What about the watermelons?” It was his girlfriend doing the asking.

Laura and I exchanged glances of disbelief before heading down the ramp toward the basement, figuring we could grab the melons and exit out the service door that opened to the parking lot of the abandoned hospital. I took the lead, Laura at my heels, and we moved as quietly as possible, no one speaking, rounding the bend at a landing and descending toward the dim light we’d left burning upon our arrival.

Just as I cautiously approached the final turn toward the kitchen, every nerve on edge…a sudden shock sent me jumping back right into poor little Laura.

Older sister Colleen had jumped out of the shadows and sent all our hearts through the roof.

“What are you guys up to?” she asked, all innocent eyes, of course.

As lightning continued to flash through the narrow basement windows and thunder shook the concrete walls, we learned the whole story. Dr. B. and my father had wondered what was taking so long fetching  watermelons for dessert, so they had driven over to the hospital. Colleen had opted to join them. They came in the front door, locking it behind them. Then they rang for the elevator, assuming (rightly) that we were upstairs picking out beds for the family’s overnight stay. But before the elevator car arrived, Dr. B opened up the drug room, leaving the light on, intending to make up a first-aid kit for my parents as a gift to carry on our travels. Then they had decided to go down and get the melons before checking on us upstairs.

No break-in. No fevered drug addicts out to get us. Nothing scary at all.

Just one older sister taking some smiling pleasure in having scared the bejeesus out of me. Of us.

Time for revenge.

A couple of hours later the family had gathered on the fourth floor and our mother assigned bedrooms. Mine was closest to the elevator end of the hall. Then came Colleen’s. And the our mother’s, and so on. Each with a single bed, each along the same side of the hall.

Lights out.

I gave it about ten or fifteen minutes, to make sure everyone had settled down and ideally drifted off. The storm continued unabated, with sheets of rain pouring down the tall windows and flashes of lightning momentarily lighting up the room as thunder rattled the panes.


I inched out of the tall hospital bed and eased myself low, close to the floor. Step-by-step, inch-by-inch, I made my silent way by lightning light into the neighboring room until I reached my goal, ready to rise up at the foot of the bed, ready to return the favor to my dear sister Colleen.

At the moment of a particularly loud clap of thunder, I assumed my full fifteen-year-old height and let out what I hoped to be my spookiest howl.

Dead silence.

Further dead silence.

And then…from the head of the bed came a stern voice, uh-oh, my mother’s voice: “Pat, no nonsense, just go back to bed and let people sleep.”

I slunk back into my room, bested once again by Colleen, who, I am sure, heard it all in the next room and fell asleep gloating and giggling at having, once again, gotten the best of me. She had switched rooms at the last minute with our mother, knowing what I was sure to try in the darkness of that abandoned hospital.

Look out, Colleen. I still owe you for that one, dear sister.

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Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Back in my youth our family did a lot of traveling. Most of our relatives lived in the Midwest—Kansas, Missouri, Illinois. And every summer we piled into the family sedan (no air conditioning, of course) and headed east to spend at least a month visiting cousins, aunts, uncles, and old friends of our parents.

Now, it helps to know that my folks had an eclectic mix of friends. There was the undertaker and his wife in Illinois, who dummied up a bed in one of the upstairs rooms of their Victorian mansion  to appear he had brought work home from the office. It scared the bejesus out of any kids who dared to go exploring. There was the scandalous newspaperman who lived in an unmarried state with a woman who smoked cigarettes!…very Bohemian for the time. And there was the owner of Joe’s Mexico City Café, who conversed with our father in Spanish with great enthusiasm, all the while serving up authentic Mexican cuisine we loved, until we learned he cut a few corners by specializing in illegal horse meat.

One of my favorite childhood travel memories however was the visit to my father’s old  Kansas University friend in Missouri. Dr. B. had prospered as a proctologist in Carrollton,  and he also owned a beautiful peach and berry farm outside the town.  There in the hills he also grew huge melons and other experimental crops using composting methods. .

On this particular trip our family pulled into town just before dusk, and after a long day’s ride we all slumped out of the car and entered the widely-respected doctor’s fine home.

The skies were turning dark and roiling, as one of those typical Midwest summer storms reared its head—always of great excitement for kids who lived with boring California  summers and never experienced a warm weather storm or lightning flash..

After a nice dinner, Dr.  and Mrs. B. suggested we take in one of the proctologist’s home movies. My sister Colleen and I exchanged wary looks. We knew what a proctologist did, and didn’t think viewing his home movies would sit well on a full stomach. Luckily, the movie he wanted to show was of his setting a fracture of his son’s arm, injured in some accident.  Bloody, but surprisingly pleasant after the change in our expectations.

After the entertainment, Mrs. B. suggested that four of us—their son, his girlfriend, my little sister Laura and I—drive over to the county hospital. Not because the home movie had made us sick, but because the doctor had just purchased the entire structure lock, stock and barrel, and was storing produce from the farm in the basement refrigerators.

Carroll County had just opened a brand-new health facility at the edge of town, and the old brick hospital was to become Dr. B.’s personal clinic. Our task was to fetch the home-grown watermelons from the hospital basement cooler and bring them back for dessert. And, because the B.’s would hear nothing of our spending the night at a motel when such a nice facility was available, we were told to make up sufficient hospital beds for our family’s overnight stay.

Now, keep in mind that the doctor’s son was about 19, as was his girlfriend, I was perhaps 15, and Laura barely 9.

We arrived at the imposing, multi-story structure just as the first jagged bolts danced across the rumbling skies, and raindrops the size of dimes splattered the windshield. Far in the distance howled the whistle of a passing Santa Fe freight.

Racing up to the entrance, the son unlocked the front door and carefully relocked it behind us. He told of a  break-in just days before by dangerous drug addicts seeking the pharmaceuticals still stored on-site.

Nothing about this hospital even suggested it was no longer an operating medical facility, aside from the fact that it was eerily empty of human life. All the furnishings were still in place. The Coke machine in the lobby still offered bottles for a dime. The offices still had files open on the desks and pencils laid across them. All appeared as if someone had raised an alarm and everyone had calmly filed outside, never to return.  Very Stephen King. As we went about turning on lights, the effect was  disconcerting, especially when the son headed straight down the hall to check the door of the pharmacy room, just to make sure nothing was amiss.

Our first step was to descend the long ramp into the basement kitchen. We quickly found the huge watermelons and put two on the counter top to grab when we were leaving. Then we took the elevator up to choose rooms where the family would spend the night. On the fourth floor we exited into a long hallway. The operating rooms were still equipped with mechanical tables and surgical tools and glass-fronted cabinets. Incubators lined other walls. The individual rooms were lacking only curtains of any kind, already removed for cleaning.  The tall, paned windows displayed the lightning raking the sky as thunder rattled the glass and rain pelted down the glass in sheets. At the very end of the hall we chose for the family a long line of rooms and put on fresh bed linens from a storage closet.

Then, shutting down the floor lights as we came to the elevator, I reached to press the call button. Lightning crashed outside, sending slivers of bluish light down the now darkened hallway from the window at the end of the corridor. My finger barely touched the button when someone elsewhere in the empty hospital rang for the elevator!

My God, another break-in! Dangerous, hopped-up druggies had entered the hospital and were now coming up for us!  Laura and I exchanged looks of disbelief before the four of us huddled to discuss our options.

“Yes,” it was agreed with certainty, “we definitely relocked the front door!”

“Take the stairwell?” No, we all agreed with less certainty, “–potentially too dangerous.”

The buzzer down below rang again. We heard the descending car land on the ground floor, heard the doors open and shut, and then the car rose again, coming our direction. We backed to the opposite side of the hallway. I pulled my penknife from my pocket, all two inches of fierce blade ready for action. The stairs were looking more inviting with every change on the elevator floor wall monitor showing the approach of the car. And then the car settled in place, and the doors slid open with a “ding.”


Now what? The stairwell? A quick vote decided we would still ride down to the lobby, come what might. With great trepidation we stepped in, and every floor of the descent became more nerve-wracking than the last. The longest elevator ride of my life, despite being only four floors.

As the doors parted…no one stood before us. We stuck out heads into the hallway only to find no one in sight. As one, we raced for the front entry, only to find the door still locked. Then we turned nervously to look down the hall toward the pharmacy. That door was now wide open…



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Book Facts that Explain Stupidity

This says it all…

S.K. Nicholls


Reading is vital to education on any topic.


Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

~ Malcolm S. Forbes


These are sad statistics. Fiction, non-fiction, read something. Open your mind.

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HOW NOT TO RAFT A RIVER: Another Misguided Adventure

whitewater - Copy Readers of this blog know that water and I have had a difficult relationship over the years…you know, near-drowning, that sort of thing. So in honor of the season, here’s another look at what NOT to do when it comes to enjoying water in the Great Outdoors…

Ah, summertime, and the weather is sweltering.  At least in the central California foothills, gateway to the Sierra Nevada.  And now Californians sit in the middle of a drought, our reservoirs puddles, our rivers meager streams and our streams dry ditches.

All this reminds me of summer days of years past when the waters ran in great abundance, river rafting was thrilling, and we were much more naive than we should have been about challenging the raging waters.

So here’s the story…

The Middle Fork of the Cosumnes River, as seen from the bridge up near the country outpost of Outingdale, appears to be a mild, meandering stream, with nice pockets where trout can hide, big boulders fit for sunbathers lounging away the afternoon, and a gentle current designed to bring the lazy vacationer gently downstream. It’s a good place to leave one car at the start of a rafting adventure.

Now some distance away, where highway once again meets waterway at the bridge along Highway 49, the Middle Fork also appears to be very calm and inviting, even in a year when snowmelt is high and drought is far from anyone’s mind. A nice spot to leave the first car, so that after a few hours of casual floating one has a means to get back up to Outingdale.

In principle, a great plan for a relaxing afternoon, floating the foothills, right?

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Let me tell you.

First, the four of us bought two of the cheapest rafts made at the time…thirty-buck Sears specials made of plastic. Yeah, plastic.  You know, the inflatable kind just one step above a kiddie-pool. Adding two paddles, an ice chest, a 35mm camera or two (before digital, of course), some other picnic supplies, and wearing swim suits and tennies and nothing else, we clambered aboard, ready to spend a few lazy summer hours enjoying the great outdoors and our picnic lunch.  

And that first hour or so was fun, drifting with the current, watching the turkey vultures soar overhead, observing an errant butterfly checking out our raft. My wife and I took the lead position in our boat, my brother and his wife followed behind. Yes, a good first hour.

But then we came to the weir. For those who’ve never encountered the word, a weir is a dam stretching across a flowing body of water, creating a small lake above and a beautiful cascade of water the breadth of the obstruction. And it was enjoyable running over the edge and zipping down below.

But then the gentle Cosumnes pulled a surprise, and the water rushed rapidly into a narrower passageway and suddenly we found our boats were upended, our provisions lost to the waters, and some helpful picknickers wading into the rushing water to give a hand to pull us—drenched through and through—onto shore with rafts in tow.

“I sure wouldn’t go any further,” advised one of our helpers. “Things get pretty rough up ahead.”

“No problem,” said I, “We’ve a car downstream a ways, and it can’t be that far.”

So with little hesitation, we boarded our rafts with only our oars to guide us and prepared for another anticipated hour or so of gentle drifting before we would spy the bridge over highway 49 and our waiting car.

Things progressed rapidly from bad to worse. Soon we were shooting wild rapids, skating past huge boulders, twirling about with little control of the watercraft. And then came Devil’s Slide, a long granite trough in a narrow rock-walled canyon, so steep in its decline that any control of the boats became an impossibility. Struggling, we managed to beach the rafts on a gravel bar and tried to catch our collective breath. At that moment it appeared we couldn’t go on, and I left my brother with our wives and hiked up the steep mountain on our side of the river. At the top I could see over the forested hills in three directions, but  no sign of buildings or homesteads. In the distance I heard a dog barking. That was it, and I knew we would have a tough go of it trying to hike out. I returned to the beached boats and gave the word: onward and downward.

Whitewater 2 - Copy

At one point we determined that we would have to get out and portage, carrying the rafts above our heads and making our way past a particularly treacherous stretch of the river. My brother was in the lead, and suddenly disappeared from my sight along with his raft. I ran forward, only to spot him lying some twelve feet below. He had fallen from the rocks , and his right leg twisted at the knee at a forty-five degree angle, sticking shockingly sideways out from his thigh. It was a position that spelled certain harm and pain, likely a broken bone or two. I raced down below, he stood, and the leg popped back into normal position. “Still works,” he said. And we continued on our way.

By late afternoon exhaustion and lack of food and water had drained our energy reserves. I remember drifting listlessly through a meadow of grazing cows at dusk as the first stars appeared. And then my wife, whose hearing has always far surpassed mine in acuity, drew attention to the sound of a waterfall ahead. We were in the lead. Our raft sped up and aimed for a narrowing between two large boulders, it twisted around, putting me out over the ledge first as we went over and dropped down a ten-foot waterfall. Somehow we stayed afloat in the boat, and could watch helplessly as the prow of my brother’s boat followed our course, emerging out into space above our heads, then dropping straight down, submerging briefly, then popping up again. The boats were filled with water and nearly foundering, so we bailed like crazy with our hands to stay afloat as we continued downstream.

Night fell, the stars now dazzled in splendid abundance, and we were totally exhausted. The thought of drinking from the river was dampened by the cows we had passed upstream wading riverside, so our mouths were dry as sandpaper and our tongues felt overly large and cumbersome.

Some hour or two of aimless drifting later, our boat still in the lead, my wife shook me out of my lethargy. “I hear another waterfall ahead,” she warned, “we can’t handle another waterfall.”

And sure enough, the current picked up its pace and the boats began a forward surge, and my wife became more insistent that, whatever lay ahead, we couldn’t chance taking it on in the dark. A snag approached, a dead tree partially submerged in the river, and I grabbed for it and hauled us in, and shouted to my brother to follow suit.

Once ashore, we beached the boats. My sister-in-law was shaking violently with low blood sugar and exposure, so we buried the two of them under dried grass and piled their boat on top to conserve heat and energy. Then my wife and I trekked out along a dirt path, looking for help. Any help.

About half an hour later we hear dogs barking and saw a light in a farmhouse. Standing back in the hope that the inhabitant wasn’t one to shoot first, ask questions later, we shouted for help. A porch light came on and a man came out to see what we were doing, standing in swimsuits on his country drive at nine o’clock at night. Once we had explained our dilemma, we piled into his pickup truck and trundled down to the river, where we left the boats and accepted his offer of a ride down to 49 and our vehicle.

Amusing anecdote: my sister-in-law, practically incoherent as the helpful man carried her to his truck, complained that our rescuer smelled of fish.  Apparently he hadn’t yet showered after a day of fishing the Cosumnes.

The next morning we made our way back to retrieve the rafts. We checked out the waterfall my wife had warned was coming. At that point the river converges into a narrow slot, them plummets ten or twelve feet straight down into a cauldron of swirling water. The only outlet is through narrow passages at the base of the surrounding rocks. No way for a human to make it through, with or without a raft. On all four sides are slick rock walls, with no crevices for hand grabs or footholds to allow someone (other than perhaps an expert rock climber) to clamber up and out of the pit.

We might be going round in circles there to this day, were it not for pulling from the river when we did.

So…lessons learned:

  1. Study your river in advance. We didn’t. The rafting guidebooks rate the Middle Fork of the Cosumnes in a good-flow year as being a Class IV+ and having a number of Class V+ rapids, including “Devil’s Slide.” And over a dozen recommended portages for the section we rafted. And that’s for experts. We did three. And the stretch is 11 miles long.
  2. Get good rafts or kayaks. Enough said.
  3. Tie down your food and water. You may want it later.
  4. Tell others where you’re going to be, and when to expect you back. We didn’t do either.
  5. Wear lifejackets and helmets.
  6. Listen to the advice of others who already know what lies ahead.

The following weekend we decided to take on an easy stretch of the American River below Coloma. We figured we needed to rid ourselves of any latent fear of the water. Rounding the stretch at the Highway 49 bridge at Lotus(this year a miserable stretch of rippling water, that year a roaring rush of excitement), our boat snagged on an underwater branch, deflated, and we had to swim desperately to shore. Lowering the river level by a great deal with all the water we swallowed in the process.

Oh well…we survived! We don’t guide our own rafting adventures any more, by the way.

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My first novel inspired by the espionage adventures of my father, Corridor of Darkness, a Novel of Nazi Germany, received a bronze medal today in the Suspense/Thriller category of the 18th annual 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards competition, the world’s largest book awards contest.

Since 1996 this contest has recognized excellence in independent publishing, and this year’s competition received 5340 entries  coming from the US, Canada, and ten countries overseas. The 2014 IPPY Awards medal ceremony will be held on May 28th in New York, on the eve of the BookExpo America convention.


Here’s a shot of Corridor of Darkness celebrating its award on a well-deserved getaway to Florida. The book’s been working hard.

Photo courtesy of Roberta Campbell Lawman

Photo courtesy of Roberta Campbell Lawman

My sincere thanks to all of you who have  given my debut novel your support. Beacon of Vengeance, the sequel, is due for publication mid-summer.

Please spread the word that Corridor of Darkness is available as a paperback at on-line retailers and at select bookstores, such as Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, CA, and as an eBook at

book cover - Copy (2)

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To all you fans of the Ryan Lemmon espionage story, thank you, thank you, thank you! Your enthusiastic response as readers and reviewers has been truly heartwarming, and is driving outstanding on-line book sales of both the paperback and eBook versions as far away as Great Britain and Australia.

But here’s news: several independent bookstores are now stocking this thriller that Kirkus Reviews calls “an intriguing early WWII spy yarn in a well-researched, authentic Germany.”

photo of cover

For Sacramento-area readers, please visit Face in a Book on Town Center in El Dorado Hills to pick up your copy, or to give as a gift to anyone who loves historical fiction. The bookstore edition is of especially fine quality.

Should your favorite bookstore elsewhere not yet carry it, whether independent or chain, ask them to order a copy . Better yet (spoiler alert: shameless self-promotion ahead…), suggest they carry it on their shelves. They’ll find it as ISBN 978-0-9910782-2-6 in the Ingram Catalog.

photo (2)

Of course, it’s always available as either eBook or trade paperback on at

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And for all you waiting to read BEACON OF VENGEANCE, the second in the series of Ryan Lemmon adventures in Nazi-occupied Europe, watch for publication this summer!

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MY LIFE IN THE MILITARY: Final Episode: Making the World Safe for Democracy, One Autobahn at a Time

So, if you’re interested in the rest of the story, let’s take a look at the demanding job I took on…

(For those  who have read the previous posts on this topic, you already know that in 1970 I went from expecting to risk  life and limb in artillery fire direction control in Vietnam to a cushy job as enlisted command interpreter to two generals and their staffs in Germany when the Cold War was at its height.)

Since the Army recognized no such “occupational specialty,” my new job as an interpreter needed some interpretation of its own  to pass official muster. The chief of staff designated me an “admin specialist.” Fine by me, since it sure beat waiting to be transferred to Vietnam. So I rode a desk most days, translating any German or French correspondence where my Top Secret security clearance gave me permission to read what the German civilians on staff weren’t allowed to see. I was also assigned the job–never did figure out why–of radioing in helicopter pilots who wanted to land out on our  parade grounds to drop off or pick up some VIP. And when the general gave a public address on any occasion, there I was at his side.


I was unpacked and all set up in the enlisted barracks. And because I often had some time on my hands at headquarters, and all the bound Army regulations were staring at me from a bookshelf, I decided to see how I could move off-caserne and into a private apartment.

Sure enough, nothing in the “regs” expressly prohibited it, although most everyone thought that was only allowed for married men whose spouses had joined them and who couldn’t get on-base housing. So when I broached the subject with the first sergeant, he categorically denied the possibility. When I showed up the next day with the reg book in hand, he reconsidered, but said I needed permission from my supervising officer. The deputy commander said fine, the general said fine, so soon I had a nice one-bedroom about ten minutes from the caserne.

But not before I learned about KP. For the uninitiated, that’s Kitchen Police, a remnant of times past before the all-volunteer Army. Back in 1970 enlisted men had to work a long, long day in the kitchen from time to time. Now while I was still barracks-bound, I was informed that  I’d have to report for KP the following morning. What no one mentioned was  to tie a towel to my bunk so that the sergeant would know whom to awaken at four a.m.  When I awoke of my own accord and managed to reach the kitchen I learned that I had, by default, earned the right to spend the next 18 hours or so with my hands in scalding water, scrubbing clean all the  pots and pans. By day’s end, and despite the rubber gloves, my fingers resembled waterlogged sausages, and within the week all my fingernails dropped off like dead beetles.

“What the hell happened to your hands?” demanded the general.

“KP, sir.”

“No more KP for you, son. Join the Color Guard instead.”

So the next day I was practicing marching the parade grounds out front of headquarters wearing a bright-silver helmet liner, a white sash-and-belt contraption and some fancy-schmantzy spats on my boots. We followed those  flags round and round and did a lot of very smart saluting.

“Saw you down there on the parade grounds today, O’Bryon. Not much of a marcher, are you?”

I saw my opening and took it. “No, sir, cadence doesn’t seem to be my thing.”

“Can’t have you throwing off the Color Guard, son. No more of that for you. And no more of that damned KP, either.

“Works fine for me, sir.”

“And while we’re at it, what’s the story with the cock-a-mamie hat?”

(You readers should know that I wear a larger hat size than many, and the Army had only one in my size when I received my regulation clothing. That poor hat had lain in the rejection pile for ever and a day because it was lopsided and a deep gash creased its shiny bill.)

“That’s the only one they had,” I explained.

“Well, have the quartermaster order another,” said the general, “and in the meantime, no more Color Guard, no more KP, and for that matter, when we go out anywhere official, wear a business suit. You got a suit, O’Bryon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fine,” he said, “a suit for everyday business, have them rent you a tux for fancy dress occasions. Until you earn sufficient rank, I don’t need these locals thinking I’m sending a low-level specialist to conduct business on my behalf.” Which he was.

Whenever the general did send me out on official business, I wore a suit and the driver of his sedan was in fatigues. For example, when the soldiers on the firing range overshot their targets and almost wiped out a local German farmer on his tractor, the General sent a 22-year-old enlisted man in a business suit to meet with the local village mayor and patch up relations with our NATO ally. When a few of our GI’s decided it would be fun to reenact a shoot-out with cap guns on a city street (!), guess who got to try to calm down the local authorities. (These days, of course, they would have all been mowed down by terrorist-savvy police.)

Evening events were something altogether different. When I accompanied the general and his wife to fancy balls held by the German and French commands, I wore a tux. And everyone assumed I was a civilian employee of the military, which was fine by me.

About the only time I wore a uniform (other than around the office) was when an Army vehicle managed to run over and kill a local civilian. Then the general had me attend the funeral services in dress blues, standing graveside to receive the damning stares and hate-filled glances of the poor bereaved family. I couldn’t blame them one bit, and I got rather practiced in expressing condolences. This part I hated.

Except the one time, when an 85-year-old was the dearly departed, his friends were all about the same age, and we all sat around a table drinking beer and schnapps and celebrating his life. “He would have wanted it this way, being run over by an Army truck,” said his sister with a smile, “he always loved the US Army.” Then we went to stand graveside as an oom-pah-pah band sent him on his way.

And that was that. I had an apartment and a good job with benefits. I bought a used car from a homeward-bound GI. And my prospects for some nice European travel looked good.

Now when I got my private apartment it was made clear that I had to be within fifteen minutes of the caserne and have a telephone on the premises for the occasional surprise alert. In case you don’t know, an alert would be announced in the very early morning and the entire command would gather in the old bunkers (my caserne had been an SS  tank division headquarters), pretending like the Soviet bombs were about to drop on us. Officially, no one knew when the top brass would decide to pull one of these surprises on the commands.

One evening, as I prepared to leave his office, the general mentioned in passing that I might want to sleep lightly that night, just in case something came up early the next morning. So I arose in the dark about four a.m., put on my fatigue uniform, and sat by the door, waiting to hear the phone ring  in my landlady’s apartment above my own. Then came that muffled sound from the telephone coming through the ceiling, I hear her tripping down the stairs in great haste, I grab my cap and stand by the door, and the minute she starts knocking on it–“Herr O’Bryon, Alarm, Alarm!–I open up and race past her with a quick thanks, off to do my duty. I can still hear her say in German: “Mein Gott, these Americans really are prepared!”

Once in the bunker, I sat for an hour with the general as we polished off a carton of donuts and several cups of coffee. I’m sure America felt safer still asleep in its bed, knowing we were on the job.

One enjoyable development was when the general decided to give me a half-day off every time I had to attend an evening event . What wasn’t exactly specified was whether I could combine these half-days into an extended period away from my demanding duties. So naturally I assumed that it was okay to take an aggregate week off and head to Vienna in my newly-acquired old Mercedes 180. The vacation was great, thanks for asking.

So when I got back a week later–and yes I had checked the commander’s schedule and the deputy commander gave my idea the thumbs up–the first sergeant of headquarters company (to which we were all officially assigned) had me picked up as AWOL and marched before the captain’s desk for appropriate punishment.

“Did you check with the general?” I asked with the greatest respect.

Turned out no one had.

The dress functions were great. I remember clearly one hosted by the local French command. Just imagine riding up a tall hill to a German medieval castle at night with French soldiers holding flaming torches lining the drive, the general and his wife in back of the sedan, me in my tux next to the  driver, little American flags on the fenders flapping in the wind. The French military band welcoming us with great fanfare as we emerge to enter the castle’s grand hall decked out colorfully with a great feast on long buffet tables. Once there, the general wanted me to be available, but told me to go have fun, which usually amounted to chatting up the daughters of the French and German command officers, who would have had me shot had they known I was an enlisted man in disguise. Instead, they treated my royally and allowed me to date some of their daughters.

On one occasion I found myself alone at a huge buffet. Having a fondness for European bakery specialties, I thought the flake-pastry swans filled with whipped cream especially tempting, so I took a huge bite. Mayonnaise…for dipping. Repulsed by the oily mess on my tongue and afraid of discovery having consumed half of a condiment-bearing swan, I pivoted toward the wall and right into the face of Mrs. General. Who was desperately trying to spit into a napkin the mayonnaise-filled half-swan she had just bitten off, following my lead, I assume. Following her lead, I grabbed a linen napkin of my own and disposed of the evidence of our crude American manners.

One sad day toward the end of my service I was promoted to Specialist 5th Class, and the general decided I had attained sufficient rank to attend a formal function in dress blues. It was amazing to see how quickly I lost the camaraderie of all those officers once they knew I was a mere enlisted man, but I’d had a good run. They never learned that their daughters had been in on my secret.


There are probably many other stories to tell, but there you pretty much have it…my sterling military career. I worked for two generals before I hung up my business suits, my dress blues and tux, and headed home to America.

Many fought and died during that Vietnam era, including friends I made during training. Many others came home wounded, both mentally and physically.  Many still suffer from those wounds today. I respect, thank and honor them for what they had to go through and for the contributions they selflessly made.

And whenever someone asks what I did during that period and I tell them these details, they always respond by saying “Why, you lucky ***********!” or something equally supportive.

As for me, I am the first to admit it–in many ways I was just damned lucky.


 Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon

Posted in European Travel, Memoir, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Carmel-by-the-Sea. Ridiculously charming. Incredibly costly (a nice 1500- square-foot bungalow might be yours for only $1,200,000, but wouldn’t you prefer a great ocean view at $5M or, hey, why not $10M?).  But all so full of character it’s well worth a visit.


You’re sure to find restaurants from the superb to the so-so, which makes deciding where to eat quite difficult. We ask in the local shops for suggestions and are seldom disappointed. Art galleries are also plentiful, so there are always new and beautiful paintings, photographs and sculpture for pleasurable window shopping (and if your budget allows, you are always welcome to enter and purchase.).

Typically cutesy-quaint on Ocean Avenue

Typically cutesy-quaint on Ocean Avenue

Oh, did I mention the stunning city beach with breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the sandy shore a perfect frame for every sunset? Don’t miss Scenic Drive with its incredible homes as you head south from Ocean Avenue, and famed 17-Mile Drive heading out of town to the north.


I’m always amazed to encounter  Californians who have never visited this tucked-away idyll, even though it lies only a few hours’ drive from many areas of the state. Vacationers often stop short at Monterey for its famed aquarium and beautiful bay, but fail to drive  just a few minutes farther south. All you need  do is turn  down Ocean Avenue to enter this jewel of a town and feel welcome.

For those of you who know Carmel-by-the-Sea, there’s probably nothing new for you in this post. But if you—like me—enjoy small towns in Europe, Carmel is one of the few worthy stand-ins for a quick getaway at far less expense than a trip overseas.

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So get up early when the shopkeepers are sweeping up before their stores. Wander down from one of the many bed and breakfasts or small hotels to find a morning coffee. A few good European-style bakeries in town, as well.

Having just returned from three days of relaxation and writing, I can recommend a few places.

For the best java, try Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co., offering an excellent organic selection.

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For breakfast, should your B&B offerings be too predictable for your tastes, check out La Bicyclette at Dolores & 7th. The aroma of freshly-baked European breads alone will draw you in. Great for other meals, too.

For a delicious (and entertaining) lunch, spend a midday hour at Dametra Café, on Ocean between Dolores and Lincoln. This Mediterranean restaurant offers appealing takes on food and wine, and a family-run atmosphere with friendly staff that might just break into music and song at a moment’s notice. And  little children playing with wooden toys on the floor at the back. Dametra advertises a restaurant “Like nowhere else.” It’s true.

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And for dinner, make reservations for Casanova, 5th Avenue and Mission, known for its romantic atmosphere and French- and Italian-inspired cuisine. We’ve returned time and again and never been disappointed. Dine out front under the trees (and heat lamps on a cooler evening, if needed), or ask for an inside table in the two small front rooms off to the left as you enter for a more intimate dining experience.

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Where to stay?

We tend to try someplace new at each visit, but we do find the Cypress Inn (Lincoln and 7th) particularly pleasant, with its beautiful courtyard for dining or a drink, its 1930’s architectural flair, a gracious staff, and plenty of  dogs who bring their well-trained humans to this pet-friendly inn.

Photo courtesy of Cypress Inn website

Photo courtesy of Cypress Inn website

Yes, dogs. Be prepared for canines of every breed and beauty, for Carmel is one of the dog-friendliest places we’ve visited.

See Spot run. See Spot run on Carmel beach.

See Spot run. See Spot run on Carmel beach.

Many places also welcome cats, even providing cat strollers (!). Try out the Carmel Country Inn (Dolores and 3rd), for example, and please scratch the head of their geriatric feline-in-residence, Tescher. He expects it. This beloved figure steps out to greet you dressed in black tux with white shirtfront.

Tescher in his more youthful days. Courtesy of Carmel Country Inn website.

Tescher in his more youthful days. Courtesy of Carmel Country Inn website.

Do be careful pulling a morning Herald from the stack on the breakfast room hearth. Tescher is sometimes found atop the newspapers pondering the  flames. He may give you a look of disgust at such rudeness, but it’s just old age. He’s seen it all.

This little town first gained popularity as an artists’ colony, a Bohemian getaway in the early years of the 20th century. Nowadays only a very successful artist could afford to buy one of the cozy cottages, each bearing a distinctive name such as “Windswept” or “Prince of Tides.” My favorite: “Carmelized.”

Before then it was known for its legacy as one of the Franciscan missions of Father Junípero Serra. You should take a look at the old mission while you’re here, then drive down the coast a ways toward Big Sur to experience the incredible natural beauty.

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And there you have it—a beautiful getaway, whether you drive a few hours (watch out for the speed trap alongside the reservoir between Interstate 5 and Patterson!) or come from farther afield to spend some time in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. I highly recommend it.

In fact, I’d head back today if I could. And this time watch for that darned speed trap.



Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon


Posted in European Travel, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

MAX IN FRANCE – a bittersweet tale of bear love, longing and devotion

Max was a troubled bear.

Sure he traveled frequently.  Enjoyed the sights and the companionship of his friends.  But there was more to the bear than met the eye.  His bowtie said it all:  the red-white-blue tricolore of France, a fond but painful reminder of a lost weekend in San Francisco, a coy Air France flight attendant named Maxine from Aix-en-Provence, with her winning smile and alluring French accent.  A brief ursine interlude in the City by the Bay, then she was back in the air, never to be seen by Max again.


He missed her, but they both had known it to be just one of those quick relationships that could never be more than two star-crossed lovers passing in the star-filled night.  Yet he longed for her smile, her laughter, her quick sense of humor, her soft (synthetic) fur coat.


And then came the anonymous letter, postmarked from the south of France.  It told of a love-cub, the result of that wondrous weekend a few years back, who had taken off on his own to find his missing father, and then disappeared somewhere in the countryside.

paysage (1)

So Max grabbed some friends and flew across the Atlantic to Marseille, rented a Renault and drove to Aix, and then Arles, and on toward the Dordogne.

on Lot River (1)

He frequented haunts Maxine had mentioned, and discovered subtle clues along the way, clues which led him deep into the the south of France.

st enemie

To medieval castles and charming villages, to riverside haunts and noisy brasseries. Until the trail of clues went dry.


And then unknown kidnappers caught him:  it had all been an evil plot, a nefarious plan to take this trusting bear hostage for ransom.

Proof of life

Proof of life

Max was held incommunicado in the castle tower at St. Enemie, with little hope of truly finding his son, all the while waiting for his traveling companions to respond with the ransom money.

bear in st enemie

They, however, were preoccupied enjoying the food and wine and sights of France, and thought the ransom note merely a prank by the hotel concierge to get a bigger tip.  There is a special place set aside for friends who ignore a friend in need:

facade conques (1)

But Max, as enterprising a bear as ever graced the woods, managed his own escape from his bonds, climbed out onto the precipitous battlements, and let himself plummet to the tiled ground below.  Yes, it hurt, but this bear knew to play dead.

bear dead (1)

Until some kind soul came along to cover his eyes, and CSI St. Enemie wrote him off for dead.

Once alone, Max made good his escape, first resting up a bit  in Brantome, with a nice bar of French chocolate to give him strength to continue his quest.

bear w choco (1)

For he knew, having endured his captors cruel taunts, that the story of his missing son was true.  And Max was intent to turn France upside down to find his cub.

brantome bridge 1

He scoured the villages of the Dordogne, the gardens of the Perigord, the streets of Limoges…

bear vieux logis

and then, at a country flea market in Vouvray on the banks of the Loire…wonder of wonders…there sat little Maxim at a folding table, hoping against hope to someday see his father, while busily trying to sell some rather dubious but very French second-hand household items.


It was a joyous reunion.  Max saw in this little bear the sparkle in the eye, the outrageous Gallic bear nose, and the spotted coat of his lost paramour, Maxine.  And Maxim recognized his father from  photos his mother has shown him so many times before.  Father and son embraced  in delight, and drove on to Paris to celebrate, at long last, their reunion.

bear in Paris

At the end of the stay there was a bittersweet parting. Max knew he must return to his native California where he spent his workdays showing off for tourists in Yosemite Park.

But he and his son both knew they would always have Paris.

And Maxim held in his heart the unspoken conviction that, someday, he might bring his parents back together for a teddy bear picnic in the Southern French woods.

Maybe you might join them?


Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon

Posted in Animal stories, European Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments



(Dear Reader – You may wish to read parts 1-4  in the Archives to the right before jumping into this story.)

So there I was, having avoided military service in some clammy tent in Vietnam, or—worse still—as a forward observer in the jungle, as had been my expectation. Instead I found myself sitting pretty in pretty Germany, having just wrangled  a position as an “enlisted command interpreter” to an Army general, and well on my way to having my Military Occupational Specialty changed to some administrative MOS designation. I wasn’t picky, I’d take whatever they offered.

So what did I do on my first day on the job?  Why, I spent the day getting soused, of course.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Well, I guess I owe you an explanation, so here’s how it happened:

As those of you who have followed this military memoir know, I was a bit naïve about how the military works. But there was one thing I had learned and learned well, when an officer tells an enlisted man “jump,” you had better jump, or you’ll end up doing laps on your belly in the sawdust pit till your digestive system thinks you’ve switched to an all-cellulose diet.

So who comes knocking on my barracks door, bright and early on my first day of official duty in Germany, but a captain and a lieutenant, the very two who had been instrumental in my rise up the command ladder just twenty-four hours before.

“A group of us are off on a bus tour of breweries,” said the captain, “and we thought your German-speaking talents might be of use. How quickly can you be ready?”

Well, elated as I was to be back in Germany, and since these kind officers were offering, I quickly got out of there and we headed across the beautiful Swabian countryside to a nice brewery, where we feasted on bratwurst and bread rolls, washing it all down with huge mugs of beer. And then we headed out to a second brewery, where we were offered schnapps. And then beer. And then schnapps. Etc. Etc.

I know it sounds even more naïve, but I was so pleased with my new job and the pleasant camaraderie with junior officers  that I didn’t give a moment’s notice to the fact that—believe it or not—beer and schnapps both contain alcohol. Lots of alcohol. And as a modest drinker at best, my system didn’t register the copious amount I had consumed until I suddenly felt ill. Very, very ill.

Now hereafter the picture gets a bit fuzzy. I remember sitting for an extended period in a men’s room stall being berated by Germans who wanted to use the facility and kept pounding on the door. I remember a helpful albeit equally drunk lieutenant leading me up and down outside the brewery on the icy pavement, trying to sober me up a bit, when all I wanted to do was croak. I remember coming to consciousness sitting at the bar of an officers’ club (where I had no right to be due to my lack of rank), shoving away the beer glass the bartender had just placed before me. And something about seeking a safe hiding place for my wallet once I was back in the barracks, because I remembered hearing earlier from someone that drunken soldiers often had their wallets lifted.

Morning dawned on a terrific, throbbing headache.


Clammy sweat drenching every inch of my body.

Blood-shot eyes.

And the certainty that I never again wanted to let such a thing happen to me. I dragged my way to the headquarters building to report for the day’s duties. And was immediately summoned to the office of the Chief of Staff.

“Well, O’Bryon? What the hell happened to you? You were supposed to report to the general twenty-four hours ago.” A certain tone of disapproval worked its way through the haze which enveloped my every thought and the pain which accompanied every movement of my head and body.

“And you look like ****,” he added unnecessarily.

“Well, sir, I went on the brewery tour,” I announced with appropriate gravity.

Believe it or not, he hadn’t been aware of any tour. Nor had anyone authorized my participation. But he was savvy enough to call in one of the captains, and it turned out that those fine young officers had decided to have a bit of fun at the new “enlisted interpreter’s” expense.

And luckily the general had been an enlisted man once, as well. So my job was saved. I was sent back to the barracks to sleep it off. And I reported to work the next morning. Sober. And a little less naïve. And later I even became friends with a couple of those young officers.

My wallet was gone, so I had to have my folks wire me cash till next payday. And two months later, when moving from the barracks into a private apartment off-caserne, I did find my missing wallet, hidden in the toe of a shoe. I may have been soused, but sometimes even in a drunken haze a clever plan works.

Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon

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