February 1, 2015


Nancy Lane lives in Portland, Oregon and frequently participates in a women’s writing group, “Tuesday Morning Writers.” Nancy writes short fiction and essays, focusing on good people and positive themes.
What I Really Know About Patriotism, published in the AARP Bulletin, May 2011 (http://www.aarp.org/personal-growth/life-stories/info-05-2011/boomers-and-patriotism.html)

Tales of Meander, posted at Creative Christian Writers (http://www.christiancreativewriters.com/forum), winner of the Joshua Fund Short Story Contest (June 2012) As the Crows Fly, posted at Creative Christian Writers (see above), winner of the 19th Short Story Contest (January 2014)

Tales of Meander

“Meander Lewis will be the subject of your story, an obituary of sorts.  Mr. Lewis died recently. I don’t want a typical funeral notice. Your story about Lewis will go into Sunday’s paper. If you researched our township and our newspaper before submitting your job application, you know about Sunday’s edition of the Summerville Sunrise. We boast award winning feature articles.  We give our readers something to think about, something to talk about on the way to church or over brunch at Lucy’s Lunch Box.”

George Truman had been editor of the Summerville Sunrise for over thirty years.  Now he carefully measured the two young men in front of him. When Sam Reed retired after twenty-five years reporting for the Sunrise, Truman winnowed the job applicant list to two and devised a way to determine which of the two would be offered the job.

“So, Mr. Truman, Mr. Holmes and I will each write about Mr. Lewis, and you will decide which story is better. Is that right?”

“No, Mr. Hunter,” Truman turned to the young man wearing the expensive interview suit, noticing as well Maddox Hunter’s crisp white shirt and fine cuff links.

“I will decide which of you wrote the story best suited for our readers. Our retiring reporter, Sam Reed, has a keen sense of the Summerville people. He knows what they question, what they want to read. They want the truth, but not just facts. Sam gave them the whole story. He has a gift. Perhaps one of you has a similar gift. We’ll see.”

“It’s Thursday afternoon, and you want a story for Sunday. What’s the deadline for getting our stories to you?” Paul Holmes didn’t appear as polished as Maddox Hunter, dressed in khaki Dockers, a pale green shirt, and a brown cable-knit pullover sweater. His attire was remarkably similar to the shirt, pants, and sweater Truman wore.

“Email your stories to me by noon Saturday. Then we will meet here at three Saturday afternoon to review how you researched your stories and what you accomplished.”  Truman handed a piece of paper to each of the job candidates. “Here are two names and phone numbers. You might want to contact them. They knew Meander Lewis. Good luck to you both.”

George Truman saw neither Hunter nor Holmes the rest of that day and the next. He heard first from Maddox Hunter, who submitted his email a little after nine on Friday night, well ahead of the deadline. Paul Holmes’ email arrived at eleven fifty-six Saturday morning, just a squeak before the noon deadline.

“Thank you Mr. Hunter and Mr. Holmes,” Truman started the Saturday afternoon meeting. “I’ve read both of your submissions. How you get information is as important to me as your stories. Tell me about your research. Please start, Mr. Hunter.”

“Well, as you know, I exceeded your expectations with the deadline. I . . .”

“No, you did not, Mr. Hunter. My expectation was to receive the stories by noon. You both met the deadline. Earlier is not better.” Truman looked a little annoyed.

“Okay then. When we left here on Thursday, I saw Mr. Holmes heading for the township clerk’s office. So I went to the library and reserved the conference room. I phoned the two people on your list and asked them to meet me there at ten thirty the next morning.”

“You interviewed them together?” asked Truman.

“Yes. My university professors stressed time management. I got the interviews completed in less than half an hour. But Ed Reisner and Mary Cooke had little of value for my story - more interested in telling me about themselves. They both claimed to have known Lewis. But neither knew how he got his first name or where he moved after leaving Summerville. They didn’t know where he came from, upstate they thought. I ended up in the clerk’s office after meeting those two and got most of my story from the lady in that office.”

“’The lady in that office.’ Did you get her name?”

“No, didn’t need to. Her information is part of the public record. So, I don’t need to reference her by name.” His expression was a blend of smugness and hesitance at telling the newspaper editor something he surely knew about referencing sources.

“So how did you complete your story?” Truman asked.

“I headed back to the city. Played golf with my dad, then sat at my computer and finished the story. I rewrote a bit. After dinner with friends, I returned home and read it once more. Then I emailed it to you.”

“You spoke to three people in Summerville and then wrote your story. Is that correct?”

“There’s not a lot to say about Meander Lewis. I actually spoke to a fourth source. Mr. Grey at the Summerville Funeral Home told me that the funeral for Lewis must be out of town, maybe out of state, because he did not have anything scheduled. Well after all, Lewis has been away for nearly ten years.”

“Okay, very well.” Truman turned toward Paul Holmes. “Now it’s your turn.”

“I chatted with Allison Kimball, the township clerk, on Thursday afternoon. Then I phoned Mr. Reisner and learned of his meeting with Mr. Hunter. So I arranged to meet him at his home at nine in the morning. I phoned Mrs. Cooke and asked if I could meet her at noon. I talked with Mrs. Cooke for hours. She and her father lived together in Summerville before he passed. Mr. Reisner had a military career, took medical leave, and settled in Summerville. Both of them knew Meander Lewis well.”

“I’m surprised you spent so much time with those two. I found them not helpful at all,” remarked Maddox Hunter. “If you interview people together, you don’t waste so much time.”

“Mr. Hunter, my college instructors told me it’s best to interview people separately. You can elicit more personal information during one-on-one interviews,” countered Paul Holmes.

Holmes turned back to Truman and continued, “I left phone messages for Sam Reed, but he didn’t call me back.”

“Sam Reed doesn’t work for the Sunrise anymore. Why would you phone him?” asked Hunter.

“Allison told me about Sunrise archives at the library. I found old articles written by Mr. Reed. He did one about the old tavern and how Mr. Lewis had been a favorite fixture there. I wanted to know more. So I tried to reach Sam Reed at his home.”

“I’ve been trying to reach Sam also. I owe him a dinner and wanted to take him and his wife out. I figured they must have gone to their cabin on the lake,” said Truman.

“That’s right. I finally drove to his home. His neighbor gave me directions to the cabin. You can’t reach the cabin by cell phone. So I got there about nine last night and spoke with Sam and Natalie until one in the morning.

Sam told me that tavern regulars thought of Mr. Lewis as Everyman. He knew the life story of everyone he spoke to at the tavern, even the tourists driving through, and made those stories like his own. He was an oil man on his way to Texas; a mother running from an abusive husband with two kids and a dog named Scully in the back seat; a Filipino immigrant, named Lucy Lucado, who opened a popular restaurant in town. Mr. Lewis had many personas.”

“So how did you find out anything about Lewis himself?” queried Hunter.

“Sam gave me his niece’s phone number. Over the years he’s spoken with her many times. Mr. Lewis was living in an Alzheimer’s facility.  Sam and Natalie became close friends with his niece and sadly tracked Meander Lewis’ decline.”

“That’s not fair, Mr. Truman. You gave us each two contacts. You didn’t say we could interview the previous reporter,” Hunter protested.

“I didn’t say you couldn’t. You could have done exactly what Mr. Holmes did if you wanted to,” Truman pointed out. “Please continue,” he said, nodding to Paul Holmes.

“When I got back in cell phone range I left a message for Mr. Lewis’ niece. She phoned me back early this morning, and we talked at length.”

“Did you drive back to the city as Mr. Hunter did?” asked Truman.

“No. I took a room at Super Eight on the highway,” answered Holmes. “By nine this morning I had all the information I could gather. I wrote and rewrote, as Mr. Hunter did. I was head down writing until I emailed you just before noon.”

“Please read us your story, Mr. Holmes,” invited Truman.

Holmes drew pages out of the manila envelope he held on his lap. “Meander Lewis, a man who changed lives for the better in Summerville, lost his life to complications of Alzheimer’s disease on February 15, 2012 in Ossining, New York at the age of 63. His niece, Darlene Lewis Carter, was at Mr. Lewis’ bedside at his passing. Mr. Lewis was born on January 22, 1949 in Ossining to Mr. and Mrs. David Lewis, both schoolteachers. Ms. Carter explained Mr. Lewis’ unusual first name, ‘His mother died at childbirth. His father was so distraught, he didn’t know what to name his newborn son, but then decided to name him the same as his deceased wife’s beloved cat. There were two Meanders in the household until the cat died in 1954.’”

“Really, Mr. Truman? Would you print the stuff about a cat? Who wants to read about a cat?” questioned Hunter.

Truman answered before motioning to Paul Holmes for more. “People here would probably like to know how Mr. Lewis got his name, and lots of Summerville folks like cats.”

Paul Holmes continued reading, “Mr. Lewis moved to Summerville in 1978. Some neighbors referred to him as a handyman, others called him a carpenter. He was sought out especially to transform unfinished basements into splendid living areas for Summerville homeowners. Mr. Reisner, a long time friend, said Meander Lewis could build anything and make it beautiful. Mr. Lewis was also known to fish, selling some of his catch and giving much of it to anyone having a hard time.

Mr. Lewis was well known at the Talk-of-the-Town Tavern. Most weeknights, after fishing or building, he sat at a seemingly reserved seat at the bar. Folks new to the tavern were invariably drawn to Meander Lewis, who encouraged them to tell him their stories. When asked about his life, Meander Lewis would weave tales from strands of many lives he had encountered, recalling details told to him once during a long ago conversation. His recall was amazing. His skill at crafting a complex tale that enchanted listeners was remarkable, some even called it miraculous. Tavern regulars heard so many different versions of Meander Lewis’ life they felt as if everyone’s story was a part of him.

Mr. Lewis moved back to Ossining in 2002. Ms. Carter saw his health decline and eventually recognized the first stage of Alzheimer’s disease. In time, Meander Lewis moved into the Willow Tree Memory Center. Dr. Singh, director of the Memory Center, told Ms. Carter something quite unusual was happening with her uncle. He told her that most Alzheimer’s patients remember little recent information, but can often recall the past. Patients have good days, when they are somewhat lucid, and bad days, when they are not. On good days, Mr. Lewis remembered the stories he heard long ago in Summerville. That was not so remarkable. What could not be explained was that some of the other patients, on their good days, could also remember details of the tales told to them by Meander Lewis. To the other patients, the tales were recent information, not the kind normally recalled by any Alzheimer’s patients on good days or bad days. Dr. Singh had no explanation but did reveal a positive result. The loved ones who visited those other patients found their spirits buoyed when their mother or father, uncle, or brother could recite a tale and then recite the same tale, with all the same details, at their next visit.”

Paul Holmes glanced quickly at Maddox Hunter. Hunter was looking down, hands clasped on his knees.

“Ms. Carter was not surprised her uncle had a good effect on the people around him wherever he went. She recalls her earliest memories of him, ‘At each family gathering I ran to find Uncle Meander. I just wanted to look at his face. It was so beautiful. His eyes were so full of love. And they continued to reflect pure love the rest of his life. I have never met anyone on this earth who had so much love in their eyes. I was at his side before he passed. Suddenly he sat up in bed. I was surprised because he had been unable to sit up for months. He had also been unable to speak. But at that moment, which turned out to be his last, he spoke the words he had said to me many times, even saying my name, which he had seemed to forget months earlier  – Darlene, always be good to people. People are important.’

Meander Lewis lived what he spoke. Mary Cooke tells of his kindness when her father died. Her father had committed fraud, stealing money from many townspeople. He wasn’t convicted, but all knew what he had done and considered him greedy and dishonest. Meander Lewis stopped by when he heard of her father’s passing. Mary worried no one from town would come to the funeral. Her siblings did not know of their father’s misdeeds. Now they would question why he had no friends in town to attend the funeral. Meander Lewis assured her there would be people paying their respects at the funeral.

At the funeral, Mr. Lewis arrived with six fishing buddies, unrecognizable because they were clean shaven and wearing Sunday-best suits. Mr. Lewis delivered the eulogy, speaking about her father for fifteen minutes. Everything he said about her father was true. But he never mentioned the transgressions. His tale of Mary’s father was one of a loving father, history buff and conscientious environmentalist.

Meander Lewis also bestowed his kindness on Ed Reisner, a career military man who had to leave his country’s service for medical reasons. Ed said he had told no one but Mr. Lewis he suffered from depression.

On fishing days Mr. Lewis passed Ed’s house on his way to the river, stopping in for coffee.  Ed could hardly move one morning, debilitated by depression. Mr. Lewis took a couple sips of coffee and then pulled out a notebook and pen. He drew something for Ed to see. The wavy line on the page looked like a stock market performance line, with ups and downs but generally moving up toward the right. Mr. Lewis told Ed that peaks on the line represented good days, valleys represented bad days. He showed Ed how low points toward the right were higher than the high points toward the left. Mr. Lewis told Ed he would feel better if he kept thinking about that line. He would not feel good every day, but he could look forward to better bad days and better good days too. Ed never knew if Mr. Lewis’ insight about depression came from his own experience or was told to him by someone else. But a line on a piece of paper lifted Ed to where he could find hope.

Meander Lewis, known by Summerville townspeople for the enchanting tales he fashioned from the stories of all the people he met, known by friends for his goodness and kind acts, and known by his niece for his beautiful face and love-filled eyes, will be remembered in a ceremony at Darby Funeral Home, 1302 Emwilton Place, Ossining, NY on Wednesday, February 22 at 2:00 pm. All who knew Meander Lewis are welcome to attend.”

Maddox Hunter shot up from his chair. “You bested me, Mr. Holmes. My half page captured nothing of what you reported. Congratulations.” He shook hands with George Truman and Paul Holmes and departed quickly.

Truman shook his head and turned to Holmes. “I hope you’re still booked at the Super Eight. We’ll have a late night as I show you how we put the Sunrise to bed on Saturday night.”

Lucy’s Lunch Box was more crowded than usual at noon on Sunday. A copy of the Summerville Sunrise was open at every table. Boxes of Kleenex were passed around as diners quietly discussed their thoughts about Meander Lewis. The next day, Paul Holmes fielded phone calls about the Lewis memorial service from his new desk in the Sunrise newspaper office. Paul became the coordinator of the bus and carpool convoy to leave Summerville on Wednesday morning.  Sharon Bollinger, the School District Manager, told Paul that a dusting of snow was forecast for Wednesday, and she planned to declare a snow day for the township schools. That would free up the three school buses for travel to Ossining. The pastor offered the church bus as well. Paul spent Monday and Tuesday matching riders to carpools. The trip would be a turnaround, with folks leaving at 6 am and returning at midnight or later. Those who could not go offered to cover for those going, feeding the cats showing up on back porches, feeding chickens for neighbors and gathering eggs from chicken coups.

The convoy started as the sun rose in Summerville. Carpool vehicles streamed up Main Street and turned onto the highway. The church bus went next, followed by the school buses. The local sign maker had made banners for each bus. The banner on the right side of each bus read, “Meander Lewis, 1949 – 2012.” The banner on the left side read, “Always be good to people. People are important.”

~Nancy Lane~

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