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Help us: Auditioning stories for a book.

“Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”   -Mother Teresa

I’m completing a short story collection for release.  I have room for five (5) more stories.  I’m asking readers and friends to help me choose.

Below are three (3) of the stories I’m “auditioning.”

Please read them and rank them.

#1 will be your top choice of the three.

#2 your second choice.

#3 your third choice.

Any and all input and suggestions are appreciated.

You can comment on this blog, Facebook me, or email me at curtiles@aol.com

Story A. Beans for Saki Village

(Saki Village, Democratic Congo, Africa) It’s the most devastated village I’ve visited in six African trips. Saki, Democratic Congo. Is situated in the middle of a civil war zone where rebel soldiers and government troops have fought over control of the mineral-rich mountains, it has seen its share of trouble. Saki village residents have recently returned after being refugees for nearly two years. Their wood frame church was one of the few structures still standing. Homes were gone, crops destroyed. It was a matter of starting over.

I was there with a group of teenage girls on their “senior trip.” Instead of taking a post-graduation trip to Cancun or Pensacola, they wanted to go to Africa. That’s how I ended up with them in Saki Village.

As the six Louisiana girls visited the local pastor, he requested a gift. “If you Americans could help us, we could plan a bean crop for the entire village.” “How much would this cost?” “For $700 US dollars, we could supply everyone in our village, Christian and pagan, with ample seeds. This would feed us and we would save back crop seed for next year’s crop.” We didn’t have that amount of money to spare but we decided we’d raise it when we returned home.

The pastor’s request was the type I love to hear. They were asking for a hand up, not a handout. If we helped, it would be a lasting gift that would feed hungry folks who weren’t afraid to work. Both the local pastor and American missionary agreed this was a worthy accountable project to invest in. We returned home to Louisiana and went straight to GA Girls Camp at Dry Creek, Louisiana. As we shared about the needs in Saki village, the camp girls took this project to heart. They didn’t raise $700. They gave over $1400. Many of them bypassed snacks or the gift shop to help “put in a bean crop for Saki.”

We’ve received photos from Congo of each family receiving their allotment of five kilograms of beans. That’s over ten pounds per family, enough to plant a large crop. Bean Distribution Saki Village July 2010 I look forward to seeing photos of the beans growing in the rich soil of eastern Congo. With its equatorial location, they can grow several crops per year.

A group of girls took a project to heart. The best girls in the world: a group of generous Louisiana country girls. However, there’s more to the story: the extra money from the offering went to help run a feeding center near the Congolese city of Bukavu. Our Louisiana girls visited two such centers where a church sponsors a daily meal for selected malnourished children in groups of 60 and 30 respectively. It was touching to see this ministry. A nurse regulates who gets the meals. Whenever a child’s health returns, they “graduate” (i.e. they’re no longer part of the program) and others needy children receive food.

Two scenes from these feeding centers are etched in my mind. One was the sight of dozens of children watching from the doorway and open windows of the feeding center. It was evident they were hungry, too. The other was a girl I’ll always call “Sissy.” She carefully spooned the porridge into her younger brother’s mouth, never feeding herself. She would only lick the bottom of the spoon if any of the precious meal dripped. She taught me an unspoken sermon about unselfishness. Sissy feeds her brother Buhozi Feeding Center Bukavu, Congo It takes $17 to feed a child for one month.

Our Louisiana girls went to work on another project for the feeding centers. They made T-shirts emblazoned with “Mzungu.” That’s “White Man” in Swahili, and it’s the word that any American visitor to Central Africa hears repeatedly. Wikipedia says ‘Mzungu’ is from a contraction of words meaning “one who wanders aimlessly.” These wandering Dry Creek girls sold dozens of the shirts, with over $1000 dollars going to the feeding center. As if this wasn’t enough, the summer camp missions offerings also were sent to the feeding centers. It’s been exciting to receive emails and photos all summer of beans and children being fed. All this is the result of the passion of a group of Mzungu girls from the Louisiana piney woods. A group of girls God is using to give “a hand up” to Congo, Africa. “A generous person will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.”

Proverbs 22:9 We’re encouraging two groups of seniors to consider international mission trips: High School seniors as well as Senior Adults. Learn more about this at http://www.creekbank.net

Story B. “Keep on Moving!”

The colorful three-wheeled motorcycle angled into the Dry Creek Post Office parking lot. The rider was festooned in leather clothing, a helmet, goggles, and a pair of riding boots. Evidently, this man is evidently serious about his craft. Taking off his helmet reveals a Harley do-rag worn by an old man. Not kind of old, but very old. His stiffness in climbing off the trike (what they officially call 3-wheeled cycles) reinforces the picture that this motorcycle rider is well advanced in years.

It is then I realize the rider is my friend Sherwood. If someone asked me, “Who have you learned the most from in the last several years?” I believe I would answer unhesitantly, “An octogenarian named Sherwood.” An octogenarian is someone in their eighties. Men of this age group have seen much of life. They started life in a time of great change and human advancement. They were shaped by two world-changing events: The Great Depression and World War II. They have survived through the succeeding decades as times, values, and the world changed. In summary, they have a lot to offer. That is why I want to introduce you to Sherwood.

Sherwood Goins is eighty-four years old. He is a tall country man who has lived a lot of life. He fought the Japanese in the jungles of the Pacific. After the war, he married, raised a family and worked hard to provide for them. I remember over a decade ago, when he was a “young man” in his seventies, how he still cut firewood to sell in the community. One of my favorite snapshots of Sherwood is when the tombstone company came to install his grave vault and headstone at the cemetery. I worked with him on selecting the spot where he and his wife, Lilla, would be buried. They were both battling cancer and he told me he wanted to be prepared.

On the day that the vault company arrived at Dry Creek Cemetery to dig the graves, I went down to check on the progress. Driving up I saw a sight that made me laugh as well as inspired me. As the gravedigger worked his backhoe digging the holes, there sat Sherwood Goins in his canvas folding chair with a thermos of coffee beside him on the ground. Sherwood was personally inspecting to ensure that the vaults were placed exactly right.

When the old gravedigger, whom I’ve worked with for years, took a break, he called me over. As he spat a stream of dark tobacco, he said, “Son, I’ve dug a lot of graves in my time, but I don’t believe I’ve ever had a man bring his chair and coffee bottle to watch me dig his own grave.”

Sherwood is a very special character and friend. And he is my friend. I can’t recall the exact day when we became dear friends, but that is how we feel about each other. We became close during the time of his wife Lilla’s cancer and subsequent death. I helped him bury his wife of 58 years. It was so painful to watch his grief at losing his partner of a lifetime as we stood with him at the funeral and gravesite. Because of his own battle with cancer, advanced age, and the weight of grief he carried, I’m sure many wondered that day at his beloved wife’s burial how long it would be before we also laid Mr. Sherwood beside her at Dry Creek Cemetery.

However, in spite of his great grief, Sherwood Goins made up his mind to fully live out his remaining days. This did not mean he mourned his wife any less; it simply meant he made a choice between sitting at his house in a chair and withering away or getting out and living whatever time he had left. The choice Sherwood made, and the lessons we’ve learned from it, was to get out and live. To combat the depression and loneliness he was experiencing, Sherwood Goins bought his first motorcycle at the advanced age of eighty-four!

Now, he’d never even ridden one before, but that didn’t stop him from following his dream of owning and riding a motorcycle. The bike he had purchased wasn’t just any motorcycle. It was a Honda Gold Wing Motor Trike, a three-wheeled cobalt-blue beauty. He was stiff as he got off the bike. I stood amused as it took nearly a minute for this tall man to unlimber himself from the saddle. Any motorcycle riding man past eighty years old has the right to be a little stiff when he climbs off his bike! Soon Sherwood was motoring around the area going to eat out, taking trail rides with clubs, and letting the wind blow in his face. He’d made a decision: he was going to live out his days. He saw this bike as the antidote to the poison of sitting at home, looking out the window, missing his wife, and simply withering away.

In an interview with the Lake Charles American Press, he spoke about his philosophy of life, “Life hasn’t been soft, but it’s been good. I don’t complain. There’s no point in it. You’re only here one time, and you have to be man enough to take what you get. That’s how I see it.” I think back to how many doctors and counselors have shared the difficulty of getting depressed patients out of the house and be active. I understand about that because a symptom of depression is a wish to be isolated and left alone. However, it is the worst thing you can do. It doesn’t help at all. In fact, it’s counterproductive to getting well. Mr. Sherwood Goins’ prescription is a pretty good one: Get out and get going.

It’s the same philosophy another of my octogenarian friends lives by. His name is Erik Pederson. Erik has always been one of my favorite Dry Creek friends. He and Sherwood are about the same age. They also share another commonality: They are both cancer survivors who have chosen to keep on living. Erik has always shared this statement with me, “They ought to stamp on every birth certificate, ‘Keep Moving.’”

Erik Pederson, the son of Danish immigrants, has kept moving—living life to the fullest. Retirement has never been in his vocabulary. To him, keeping on moving means to keep living. To keep living means to never truly retire. Erik always has a reason to get up in the morning. During his busy day, he spreads good will and cheer throughout our community. I would daresay that he is Dry Creek’s most beloved and best-known citizen. Although the cancer in his leg has slowed him down, Erik is still pushing, living, and being an inspiration to our community. When I saw him recently, he described himself by telling a story about an American flag that had been through the many wars our country had fought. As a result the flag was battle-worn, faded, and tattered. The old flag speaks of its long life to an observer: “I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in.”

As Eric Pederson told me that story he winked at me and added, “Well, I’m kind of like that flag, I’m in good shape for the shape I’m in.” Once again, I was being taught a lesson by this man I admire so deeply. The choice that every person faces in his or her life is like Erik’s: When faced with great difficulty, what will I do? Difficulty can be spelled plenty of ways: illness, grief, depression, financial or career setbacks, or divorce. The list could go on and on. The choice is this: Will I sit here and sink deeper in the mire of this problem or will I choose to keep going? It is a choice you, and only you, can make.

A small, nervous dog named Eddie just taught me a life lesson on this subject of “Keep on Moving.” Eddie is our eight-year-old rat terrier. He is skittish, jumpy and often suspicious of me. I can give him one flea shampoo bath and he will run from me for the next three weeks. Eddie prefers to stay in the carport or garage closet. Left to himself he will spend the entire day in the darkened closet sleeping on an old rubber boot. Not long ago on a particularly sunny and pleasant day, I’d seen enough. I told him, “Eddie, you’re going to get depressed lying right there. You need to get out and get some fresh air and sunshine. You’ll feel better when you do.” Much to his disappointment I scooped him off his beloved boot and carried him outside. I shut the closet and pulled down the garage door. Eddie had no choice but to be outside. This has been going on for about two weeks now.

The difference in Eddie’s temperament and activity has been amazing. He has been energetic, barking, and chasing squirrels again. He just needed to get moving and get outside. Sometimes a change in environment—out of the dark closet into the bright sunlight—can make a tremendous difference in one’s life whether man or dog. My friends Sherwood and Erik would put it this way: “Keep moving; ride where the wind blows and live life. “Get outside. “Drink life in—to the bottom of the cup. “Keep moving!”

Story C. Keep on Paddling

Our canoe drifted into the swift cold waters of the White River. All of a sudden we’d left the calm waters of the narrow Buffalo River and now were paddling furiously upstream in a raging, much wider river.

Frank Bogard and I were at the end of a three-day August river float on Arkansas’ beautiful Buffalo River. On the secluded last thirty miles of this designated National River, we’d seen no humans and enjoyed the company of eagles, deer and beautiful views. It had been a serene and peaceful trip out in God’s great creation. However, there is nothing serene or peaceful where we were now.

To get to our pull-out point, where our truck was parked, we had to paddle upstream for one half mile at the point where the smaller Buffalo River enters the White River. Our parking location on the White River was south of Bull Shoals Lake. We’d been told to make our upstream paddle in the morning to escape the times when water, released from the dam during the creation of electricity, makes the White River a large and dangerous stream.

Well, we’d arrived early in the morning but there was no doubt they were releasing water upstream. The larger river was high and raging. Right ahead of where we entered the White, a large island extended into the channel. All around it foaming water flowed where the river narrowed into a raging torrent. Trees were flooded on the opposite bank. Just past our entry point and slightly downstream, the loud noise of water hitting large rocks caught the attention of both of us as we paddled diligently.

As we came into the White River’s strong influence, I was amazed at how cold the water felt. The bottom of the canoe became cold to my sandaled feet. And the cold water, released hours earlier from deep in the depths of Bull Shoals Lake, had what I’d describe as a cold smell to it. I zipped my life jacket tighter wondering how long a man would last in these ice-cold waters. And then Frank and I did the only thing we could do: we began paddling as if our life depended on it. For a while I wondered if we would be able to escape the grip of the White River pulling us backwards and downstream. But as we got our bow straight, paddled in unison, and hugged the left bank, we began to make progress. One half mile doesn’t sound like much, but paddling a canoe upstream against the current of a mighty river made it a long distance. We both paddled furiously.

Soon sweat popped out on my forehead, in spite of the surrounding cold air and water. There was hardly time for conversation between Frank and I—all of our energies were on one thing—getting upstream away from the raging stream and rocks behind us. The entire time I could hear the water crashing into the rocks downstream at our backs. It felt like if we stopped paddling for even one stroke, it would be enough to lose momentum and be pulled back into the rocks. My arms ached and burned but I knew I must keep paddling.

My whole mind and body was consumed with only one thought: Just keep on paddling. I also remembered that at some point we must paddle across the river to our docking point on the opposite shore. Glancing to the left bank, it was evident we were now making good headway as the shoreline eased by. We now entered a straight and wider stretch of the White. Now we knew we were going to make it. Seeing the landing ahead and across the river, we began angling across the wide river. This area of the river, though wider, didn’t have the same pull of current as it earlier did. Soon we were across and at the landing.

What an experience our entire trip was! I’ll never forget the rapids on the Buffalo, the doe and her twin fawns crossing the river as we stood fishing in knee-deep water. I’ll cherish the bald eagle we saw fly over and the sound of the whip-poor-wills calling at Elephant Head Bluff as we camped out. But long after I’d forgotten these images, I believe I’ll still recall the cold clear water of the White River and our paddling with all of our soul and might to get upstream.

Here is why I believe I’ll remember our paddling on the White River: Already numerous times since that trip, I’ve come up against obstacles and difficulties. Each time I’ve heard a voice deep in my heart imploring me to “keep on paddling, don’t quit, you can’t quit, and just keep on paddling and you’ll get there. You’re too close to the end to give up. Keep on paddling.” And to you my reader, especially those who are in the midst of a tough upstream paddle against the raging troubles of life, I can only give you eight words of advice from my heart to yours: “Don’t ever give up. Just keep on paddling.”

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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