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 dk-147

My Grandfather

Søren Peter Larsen June 29, 1875 – December 31, 1968

My Grandmother

Jensine Petrine Larsen July 10, 1879 – August 10, 1954

  

  Foreword

 

I don’t suppose I’m any different than millions of other people when I say that I have a special place in my heart where the memories of my grandparents live.  It is a sad misfortune for a child not to have known his or her grandparents, for more often than not; they have a deep fountain of love, from which they shower their grandchildren in unending measures.  It is a special kind of undemanding, unselfish love that creates precious memories and a happy childhood.

Few people have ever had a greater influence on my life than my paternal and maternal grandparents.  They installed in me a sense of what was needed to survive in life and become a respected member of the society I was to spend my life in.  Good manners and morals were part of everyday life for them and they made sure I understood the value of these qualities.  I can’t say that I succeeded in upholding all the virtues they taught me, but certainly enough to maintain the respect of the majority of people I came in contact with during my life.

The picture of my paternal grandparents I’m about to paint, is meant to show two people who came from humble origins, but who fought and struggled to rid themselves of the yoke of serfdom their ancestors had lived through. With hard work and diligence and in spite of two world wars and the great depression they succeeded in lifting themselves above poverty.

It is with great pleasure and a deep sense of gratitude that I dedicate these pages to them, but it is also with a sense of obligation, that I write these pages, for I’m the last person still alive who can give an account of a part of their lives.

Kenny B. Larsen, January 2004

 

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Both my paternal grandparents were born in the little village of Horne, shown in the photo above, located on the Island of Fyn, Denmark.  Grandfather was the fourth and youngest child of Knud Larsen and his wife Maren Jensen Fløjborg.  Knud was born in Bjerne, near Horne on June 15, 1845.  Peter had a brother and two sisters plus a half bother and half-sister, born by Maren Jensen Fløjborg, before she married Knud.

                              Peter Larsen’s brothers and sisters

                                          Jens Peder Knudsen, born 1856

                                         Anne Jensen Fløjborg, born 1859  (1)

                                         Marie Kirstine Larsen, born 1867

                                         Niels Carl Larsen, born 1869

                                         Hanne Henrietta Larsen, born 1873

Jens immigrated to America within a year or two of Peter’s birth in 1875. He died in Texas, childless.  Anne Jensen began working on Hvedholm Manor in 1874, married Lars Christian Nielsen in 1879 and immigrated to USA in 1880.  Marie Kirstine Larsen followed in her half brother and sister’s footsteps and left for America sometime before 1890, so Peter only got to know his brother Niels and sister Hanne real well for they stayed in Denmark all their lives.

The earliest years of his life are hidden in the mist of time, but a couple of photos of the house he was born in have survived and it is typical of the type of timber frame cottages that existed in the area in the 1800s.  His father was a farm labourer and worked all his life (both him and his wife) on Steensgaarden, one of the several large, main farms that belonged to Hvedholm Manorial. The best photo of Peter Larsen’s birthplace can be seen in the next photo that shows his parents outside the house.    It was taken sometime between 1895 and 1900 in the late fall.

 

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Peter Larsen’s birthplace.  The house was located in Horne Lillemark, a short distance outside the village of Horne. Standing outside are his parents, Knud and Maren Larsen.  Photo from about 1900

granfather-birthplace-late-photoAbove is a later picture of the house

In those days, it was normal for all children living in the rural areas to begin working at the age of fourteen.  Just where he worked is unknown, up until he was a young man. In 1898, he was drafted into the Danish army and because of his height and powerful built; he was chosen to serve in The Royal Danish Guards.  He was immensely proud of this and remained a member and flag bearer of the Association of old Royal Guards for the rest of his life.  In Copenhagen he became exposed to a very different way of life, much more sophisticated than what he was accustomed to.  It was no doubt this experience that encouraged him to break with the past and leave the rural, poorly paid hard work and misery he was born into.

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I remember grandfather telling me that he for a number of years had worked as a wagon driver for a gristmill called Horne West Mill.  This was most likely after he returned from his military service in 1898.  In 1903, a photo of the mill was taken and it can readily be assumed it was while working for this mill that he met my grandmother, who was caring for the miller’s children.  Peter and his beloved Sine (nickname for Jensine) were married July 9, 1904 in Horne Church.  They were both as poor as poor can be, but that was not untypical of that generation.  People got by with little and lived happy lives despite what to us today must seem to be grinding poverty.  My father told me quite a bit about life back in those days and said he had a very happy childhood, but money was scarce and people were poorly paid for their labour.

 

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It’s quite certain that Peter continued working at the mill for some years after he married, up until 1909, when he became a delivery driver for Sydfyns Brewery.  Their only son, my father Knud Christian Larsen, was born in 1907 and he never went to school in Horne, but rather in the town of Fåborg, where they moved to before he reached school age.  After my grandparents were married, they rented a place in a triplex timber frame house in a place called Horne Lillegyden, a couple of kilometres from Horne village.  Here they lived till about 1912, at which time they moved to the town of Fåborg

 

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My grandmother was also born in Horne, July 10, 1979. She was one of six children born to Christen Larsen (born 1837-Horne) and Karen Madsen (born 1837 in Gummerup Christen was a butcher, but the family was very poor.  A single photo of them has survived. The photo was taken in 1906, in Horne, when they both were 69 years old.  The last name of both my paternal and maternal grandparents were thus ”Larsen”

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Children of Christen and Karen

                              Lauritz Andreas Larsen, born 1866,( immigrated to Australia

  Maren Caroline Larsen, born 1868

 Martine Larsen, born 1874

Mads Marius Larsen, born 1877

Jensine (Sine) Petrine Larsen, born 1879 (my grandmother)

Christine Larsen, born 1882

Of her 2 brothers and three sisters, only Lauritz Andreas Larsen immigrated.  He went to Australia in 1890, married an English girl, but died childless in 1949 in Cooksville, NSW.  Maren Caroline married and settled in Copenhagen; Martine married a man (Nielsen) from Jutland and went to live in Odense, north of Fåborg.  She had 13 children, of which 10 survived.   Mads Marius Larsen and Christine Larsen both married and stayed in Horne all their lives. Mads became a butcher, following in his father’s footsteps and became a well know and respected resident in the area.  Christine married Jacob Andreas Madsen, a fisherman and had two daughters. They are, of course, all dead now, but I was fortunate to get to know most of these, my great aunts and uncles. I may write what I know about them later.

Grandmother Sine was a pretty girl in her youth and quite popular amongst the bachelors, according to grandfather.  I know for a fact that he was quite the”ladies man”, and knew a nice filly when he saw one

Other than the fact that Sine worked for the miller on Horne West Mill in 1903, I know nothing of her   childhood years.  A few photos of her from her young years have survived, one from 1897, when she was 18 years old and one from 1901.  Both were taken in a photo studio in Fåborg.

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The earliest time I remember my grandparents begins around 1943, when I was five years old and continues right through my childhood years and part of my youth.  What happened in their lives during the years before that is what I can remember them telling me and certainly also what my father told me about his childhood home in Fåborg.

It may be worthwhile to illustrate what the town looked like around the turn of the 19th century, just before they moved from Horne to Fåborg.  I found several photos (old postcards) posted on an Internet site, which shows a glimpse of this long bygone era.  In 1916, a three-story building was constructed at East Street 43, replacing a very old and quite beautiful timber frame building (photo below)

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Other views of Faaborg from that time are worth including here, since many of the old buildings still existed when I was a boy and spending my summer holidays there.

The following two are taken from the belfry, the old bell tower dating back to the 14th century, and gives a good view over the city, as it looked around 1900.

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The photo above shows a joyful grandmother holding me, her one-year old grandson in her arms . Sadly, the railroad was sold and eliminated later in my life, but the station house is still there, serving as a bus station for the regional buses, which took over from the railroad.

Other views of Faaborg from that time are worth including here, since many of the old buildings still existed when I was a boy and spent my summer holidays there.

Changes took place over the years in the city and some of them were done in a way so as to preserve some of the atmosphere of the old city.  The two photos on the following page illustrate this quite well.

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  • In the black and white photo is a view of the ancient city gate area as it looked when my grandparents were young and the colour photo shows the same view a hundred years later.  The buildings have been renovated, so as to be useful in modern times, yet they have preserved much of the style and looks of a century earlier.  On the left side, a paint and wallpaper business have located and on the right, a baker.

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In the photo DK-PP-6 the city gate is shown from outside the city, the way it appeared when I was a boy.  The renovations seen in photo DK-PP-7, inside the gate, to the right, had not yet been carried out.  The` arrow points to the building before it was renovated and made into a paint store.  But now that the little photographic tour of the old Fåborg is over, it’s time to get on with the real story.

The first years in Fåborg

I never knew just when my grandparents moved to Fåborg and where they lived until they had moved to East Street 43, which today is called Green Street 74.  In February of 2004, I contacted Fåborg city archives via email and asked if they could help me with some photos and possibly trace the whereabouts of grandfather in his early days in Fåborg, that is, before 1916.  A couple of days later, I received a nice reply from them with several old photos, some of which can be seen above and an account of where my grandparents had lived.  In the electoral registration rolls, he appears for the first time in 1909-1910, added to the list with a pencil and indicating he was a beer delivery person, but no address was given.  In 1910-1911, his address is given as Klostergade (Cloister Street).  From 1912 to 1915, he is not in the electoral registration rolls for Fåborg.  This may be the time that coincides with what my father, Knud Larsen told me about his childhood. Before he began school, he said that they had lived well out on Assens Road, outside the city.

In 1915, he again appears in the electoral list in Fåborg, but no address is given.  From 1915 to 1920, they lived in Sandegyde (a street in Fåborg) and he is listed as a brewery worker.  In other words, it was sometime in 1915 that he ceased being a delivery driver for the brewery and became a malt maker, a position he held until 1945.

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From 1921 on forward, he is listed as living in East Street 43, which, because the entry to the building actually is in Green Street, has been renamed Green Street 74.  Incidentally, this street was first mentioned in the year 1470 in the city’s history.  I have a couple of photos of the building they moved into.  The first one was sent to me by Fåborg city archives and perhaps best illustrate exactly what the building looked like when I was a child in Denmark.  The entry to the apartment building is the door seen in Green Street, above which was the number 43.  Inside the door were a small entry area and three flights of stairs lead up to the third floor, where my grandparents lived.  It would be hard to recount the number of times I have climbed those stairs and strangely enough, during moments of quiet contemplation, I can still hear the “thump-thump” of the weave that two sisters, who lived on the first floor, were working.  The apartment Peter and Sine lived in wasn’t big and cozy, but large enough for three people.  There were two bedrooms, a large and a small, the latter being my father’s room when he was a child.  A combination living and dining room, an entry, a kitchen and a two-piece bathroom composed the rest of the apartment. On the wall in the entry hung a mirror with a gilded frame, which today (Feb. 2004) is hanging in one of our bedrooms in our house here in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  It is over 100 years old now.

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The two photos show the building and the third-floor apartment.  I took the second photo in 1969, after grandfather had passed away (December 31, 1968).  My father is standing in front of the building together with my first wife, Dorothy.  We had made a delayed second honeymoon trip to Denmark and Norway that year.

There can be no doubt as to grandfather having been a delivery driver for Sydfyns Brewery, for a wonderful photo of him in that capacity has survived.  The photo dates from somewhere between 1910 and 1915, because by 1920 he had became a malt maker in the brewery. The move from Horne to Fåborg was no doubt his way of escaping rural poverty and his experience as a wagon driver for Horne West Mill made it possible for him to get the job as beer delivery driver with the brewery.  Grandfather belonged to the generation of rural people that saw the light and escaped the poverty, grueling hard, poorly paid work and miserable living conditions that life offered on the farms.   It is doubtful that the Horne Mill worked all year round, so his job there may have been seasonal.  Having a child (my father) meant an additional mouth to feed and seeking better paid and steadier employment in the city would be a natural move for him.

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The photo tells a story from a long bygone era but grandfather told me quite a bit about those years as a driver, delivering beer for Sydfyns Brewery.

Each case of bottled beer held 50 bottles and was very heavy, but he would always carry two at a time.  He would deliver to country stores and Inns, the latter receiving mostly beer in barrels and also to the many manor house in the district around Faaborg.  He often related stories about the Barons and Counts he came to know on his delivery trips.  When I was a boy, on summer holidays at my grandparents, grandfather would take me on tours out in the country and we visited many of the manor houses, where visitors were welcome, and some, where grandfather was welcome, because he knew the owners.

He told me that sometimes he had to break in a new draft horse and would always put this horse in the middle, between the other two experienced horses that were hitched the beer wagon.  By the time he came back to the brewery, after a 12-hour trip delivering beer, the new horse would be so tired it would lean against one of the older horses.  It wouldn’t take more than a few trips and the new horse would pull its share of the load.

He would get up at daylight, load the wagon and on some days, when he had long tours, he wouldn’t return until it was dark.  He used a coiled whip on the horses and was quite the expert at handling this formidable looking piece of horse obedience equipment.  He kept his whip long after he retired from the brewery, and one day he took me down in the yard behind the apartment building and showed me what he could do with it.  I would set up some small sticks in the ground within range of the length of the whip and he would expertly hit each piece with the tip of the whip and flick it into the air.  Years afterwards, I often wondered weather his demonstration of horsewhip skills perhaps also carried a message to the effect that I had best be a good boy, or he might use it on me.

Well, seriously, my dear grandfather would never have done that.  He had firm ideas as to what constituted good behavior, and even if I transgressed onto forbidden turf, he would never punish me with anything more than a stern, verbal reminder that good manners and obedience to your elders was an essential part of being a well-behaved boy.

A few other photos from his time as a driver for the brewery survived through all these years and also a nice photo of the brewery, although this I must credit to Fåborg City Archives, since they were kind enough to give me an electronic copy of the only one they have.

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Fåborg city gate (see photo DK-pp-6)  is just around the corner from the tree in the background, past the chimney.  The cobblestone pavement as seen in the photo above was typical everywhere in the city.  There were no asphalt-paved streets until after I became a teenager in 1951 and then they paved the street directly on top of the cobblestone surface.  I remember the farmers coming to town with their horse-drawn wagons to deliver farm products to both small stores and large merchants.  The steel-rimmed wheels would make quite a lot of noise passing over the cobble stones and  one could from time to time see a spark fly from the horse’s shoes, when they hit one of the granite stones a certain way.

I have no real recollection of Fåborg and my grandparents until 1943 on forward.  This was during the Second World War, when the Germans occupied the country, each morning they would raise the hated Swastika flag on a building that could be seen from their apartment and how well I recall grandfather cursing that flag.  He hated the Germans with unbridled passions and never hesitated expressing his feelings to friends and family.  His years working on the brewery I know little about, other than what I have been told, but a few more photos from that time may perhaps be worth including here.

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In photo DK-146, Peter is holding a bottle of liquor in his right hand and this may indeed have been a birthday present from the Manager, thus the photo was taken on the occasion of his 53rd birthday.

In 1945, by the end of the war, Peter had reached his 70th birthday and that was standard retirement age in those days.  He would receive his old age pension and given all normal circumstances, he would have settled into the more sedate life of a pensioner, but no, not grandfather.  That same year, he took a job as a helper with John Immerkjær, who owned a Tuborg beer wholesale depot and it must have been a case of life turning nearly 180 degrees on him, for once again he was back in the business of delivering beer, albeit this time, progress made it via a truck, rather than a horse drawn wagon.  I have many recollections of the years he worked with John, for I was often with them, when they toured around in the upland, delivering beer and soft drinks, pretty much to the same places he did between 1909 and 1920.  A case of beer still held 50 bottles, and grandfather still carried two at a time, when he brought them in to the country store or Inn.  He was strong as an ox, even at the age of seventy.  Only one photo has survived from those days, but it pretty much tells the story.  Peter has a beer in his hand, but given the fact that he had worked on a brewery for 36 years or so, it’s hardly a surprise.  Summers could be hot in Denmark and delivering beer was hard, thirsty work.

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I was a twelve-year-old boy when that photo was taken and life was full of exiting things to do, not the least of which was going on trips with Grandfather and John Immerkjær during my summer holidays in Fåborg.  I got to know just about every country store, Inn and manor house within a 20 km radius and to boot, all the soda pop I could drink for free.

My grandmother passed away in 1954, just after their golden wedding anniversary. I saw my dear grandfather for the last time during Christmas in 1967.  He passed peacefully away on December 31, 1968, but the love my grandparents bestowed on me and the memories they gave me lives on forever in my heart.

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Another Time


My childhood is now but a distant dream and the places where I lived the dream belong to history. From time to time, when the hour is late and darkness has thrown a blanket over the hustle and bustle of the city, I let my spirit drift back to those times. I see the meadows, fields and forests, I see all those places where once I roamed and played. There are times though, when I wonder if I really see those places with the same feelings as I did when first my eyes touched their shapes and colors and printed an image of them in my memory. Have these regenerative images of places, things and events from my youth become painted with brighter and more lucid colors as the years went by?

I still remember events or something that took place a very long time ago and I do so with an intensity I find quite remarkable, especially considering that some of them did not seem to be of any relevance or significance. Why is it then that some events that were important in my youth and of which I should have very clear recollections now at best are faded, out of focus pictures? My confirmation in the Lutheran faith at the age of 14 is a good example. It was a very significant event in a boys or girls life in Denmark, since it was the stepping-stone into adulthood. A big party was given for the celebrant after the church service. No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember more than a few small details from it. I remember getting a wristwatch from my parents, and of special noteworthiness, a fishing rod equipped with a light casting real, which were just then coming on the market. I went fishing on the Sunday morning, a week after my confirmation, when I was supposed to go to alter in the church in the early afternoon. Circumstances would have it that I came home a bit late, and boy, was my father mad. He confiscated my beautiful fishing rod for a month, even though we made it to church just in time. That, by the way, was the last time I ever went to altar in a Lutheran Church in Denmark or anywhere else, for that matter.

At times, something triggers my memory banks into releasing recollections of an event or place or perhaps a person, I hadn’t thought about for a long time, maybe even since the event occurred. It can be a sound, a smell or seeing something, that triggers it and like an image projected on a screen; there it is, laid out in front of me as clear as the day it happened. A hologram of the past, projecting both happy and unhappy events. I had experienced many bad things during the Second World War in my early childhood and sometimes repressed images of them resurfaced.

I guess I’m guilty of using the same old phrase as thousands of generations have. “The good old days” they said, “That’s when life was worth living.” But is this really quite true? I often heard my grandparents talk about it or refer to those times. When I asked them for a realistic assessment, they admitted that life today, in some ways, were better than it had been when they were young. Both my two sets of grandparents said that there weren’t as many poor people today, as then and life was not quite as hard as it had been in their youth. Technology had removed much of the dreary, backbreaking labor they had experienced during a good part of their lives. The quality of life, however, was a different story. The way people lived and interacted with each other were incomparably better when they were young. There was more respect, more politeness and less crime and violence. People depended more upon each other and this dependence lead to a closer-knit society.

Do I agree with all that? Well, yes and no. Looking at life, I find that we are still eating the forbidden fruit. The creative genius of the arts and sciences constantly reach higher into the tree, searching for new fruits with which to tempt the masses. They turn yesterday’s forbidden fruit into today’s daily bread that everyone consumes with a convincing certainty that no harm will come of it. Nothing in life is stagnant. Change is the norm, but change is creation and destruction wrought in the same forge. Evolution in social behavior has made yesteryears acceptable standards or yesterdays forbidden fruits, into old-fashioned concepts, no longer worthy of consideration. To corrupt the basic standards of good behavior and acceptable social ethics with new ideas, new frontiers, and expansionist views on moral limits can only result in severe debasing of human dignity. In this aspect, I agree with my grandparents and I have adhered to those concepts of behavior that they, as well as my parents, taught me. The violence, the sexual immorality, the demand for instant gratification and the complete lack of respect found so prevalent amongst teenagers today, begs an explanation. It’s tempting to begin a discourse on the reasons why, but I won’t. It would take a few hundred pages and I neither have the time, nor feel kindly disposed to the problem. When children start shooting each other or their teachers in the school or kill for the sake of some misconstrued perception that it’s OK to do so, then I get angry at the society that created an environment where such events have become all but trivial.

I lay no claim to the moral high ground. We all have some crosses to bear and I certainly have mine. I will emphatically state though, that the kind of rage and unruly behavior so prevalent amongst today’s youth was unknown when I was a teenager. That’s not to say that I and my contemporaries were considered angels by society when we were young and full of piss and vinegar, and that’s the whole crux of the matter, you see. Good or bad behavior is relative to what is socially acceptable at a particular time and what we did was often considered unacceptable. Compared to what kids do today however, rest quite assured, we were the purists of angels. Will today’s youth be able to say the same when they reach my age? I hope not. Such a society would be utter chaos and calamity.

 

 

LAMENTATIONS


Lamentations

I feel surrounded by a world that I don’t really know or recognize, for it has only faint shadows of what once was a world I understood and loved, a world that spoke to me in a recognizable language.

It was the world of my father’s time, with some preserved images of his father world. It was a realm in which I felt secure, wanted and loved and where I learned what life was all about as I grew from a boy to a young man.  It was in that world my character was molded and my intellect honed by my teachers, my family and the society that I lived in, and in which I lost my childhood innocence.

Now that I’m old and widowed, I reflect upon those times and that world with feelings of pleasure, mixed with a degree of sadness in the realization that it no longer exists.

 

The Mountain


Your lofty face and mighty girth

Confront me like an angry spirit,

Dressed in somber black, your hair

A silver misty grey flowing round

Your white, unyielding shoulders-

You taunt me with your brash

Imposing posture, rising bluntly

From the prickly greens

Spread around your broad expanse

 


Kenny Beechmount, Apartment 3047991

Senior Citizen City, Northwest Territories, Canada G2H 6T6

  Dear Kenny.helix-lrgb3-t1.jpg

 I feel completely crazy writing to myself 17 years into  the past and I’m sure you must feel shocked to bits  and pieces receiving this letter from yourself at the age  of 80, when in your time, you are only 63.  Well, let me explain what happened.  You have no doubt heard of worm holes and time warps, so much talked about back around year 2000.  Well, you better be sitting down before you read any more.

 In 2018, a famous scientist from Egypt came across some ancient Babylonian clay tablets with a heretofore unknown form of writing.  Using the most up-to-date computers, he was able to decipher them and the results were simply sensational.   It was a mathematical formula for locating space worm holes and an explanation on how to time travel within them.  The scientist made it quite clear that the information had come from an extra-terrestrial race of beings who had visited earth several times during the last million years.

 These worm holes work a bit like a tunnel.  If you travel one way in it, you go back in time and travelling in the opposite direction, you go forward in time.

 I can just see you sitting there hopping with excitement, wanting to know if I travelled in to the future.  Well, you can relax, young fellow, I did, all of 17 years into the future.  Some of my friends also took journeys.  Jack took a trip 20 years into the past and he returned with mad cow disease.  Boy, you should have seen him.  He was jerking around like he was trying to do a 1940 jitterbug.  As you will remember, he was born in England and must have returned there at some point during his trip.  God knows why!  I can tell you that England went bankrupt after Scotland declared independence in 2015 and took over the oil reserves in the North Sea, which all lay within the new Scottish continental shelf.

You remember John Snodgrass.  His grandfather came from England back in 1902.  Well, he had just retired and thought he could safely take a journey 30 years into the future.  Even I was shocked to pieces when he came back.  At first, no one recognized him, but he kept insisting he was Snodgrass.  He said he had been given a head transplant in 2027, after his own had been damaged beyond repair in an accident.  Jeepers’ creepers, he sure did look funny with that small monkey head on his huge shoulders and his constant talk about the poor quality of bananas just about drove everyone nuts.  He said something about there not being any other heads available for seniors.

 Those who ventured more than 35 years into the future never came back.  Rumours have it that they somehow became incorporated into a new form of humanoid robots, but my curiosity is not strong enough to want to find out.  Since you are having such a hard time trying to learn creative writing in your time, I have no desire to return there.  Neither will I tell you if you will ever become a famous author.  My letter here must suffice.  By the way, don’t buy that life insurance policy.  The company went broke in 2014 and you will only recover 3 cents on the dollar.

 Greetings from yourself in the future.


Cat and mouse

“What a wonderful place I found here, said the mouse to himself, all while making a cosy home for the winter in the huge pile of leaves the Gartner had raked together by the fence, next to the compost pile.  I’ll be nice and warm here when the snow covers the ground and it gets real cold.”

The mouse went outside to get some dried grass straws to line his little home in the leaves with, nipping on some of the grass seeds that still clung to the dry stalks.

I won’t want for food this winter, thought the mouse.  There is so much food in the compost pile, much more than I can eat alone.  It would be nice to get a wife and have some little ones to share it all with.

On his way back with a mouthful of grass straws, he was startled by a large shadow.  Turning around, he froze in his track.

“Why are you starring at me like that?” said the mouse.

The cat caught the mouse with his claws, and began to eat it.

Kenny Beechmount

Flash fiction


The Village

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 It wasn’t really a village as such, just a small group of houses scattered around the local dairy, the blacksmith and the country store, where one could buy anything from a bolt of cotton to groceries, boots, tools and what not.  Some houses were farms, with pastures behind them, extending all the way to the sea-shore.  Not that this was any great distance, for none of the  farms on the island were large, but the soil was fertile and the farmers made a decent living on their land, and so they had for generations, for the farms had gone from father to son (or daughter) through centuries.  Take the blacksmith place-had it not been in the same family for more than two hundred years? And the Peregrine farm, one of the largest on the island, had been leased and later owned by the same family since the Middle Ages.

There was no Inns, restaurants or places of entertainment on the island.  There never had been and that was a good thing, for there would be no temptations for the young people; at least that’s what the older generation thought. Some families were running B&B’s to cater to summer tourists who came to enjoy the peace and quiet that prevailed.

 Few of the houses were of modern design;  most of them of timber frame style, such as had been the building practice for generations and many, being as old as they are, clearly had stood the test of time.  The exposed timbers are tarred every few years and the adobe fill between them whitewashed at the same time.  Life on the island was predictable and with no more than a few dozen families residing there, everyone knew each other.

 The women on the island loved gossiping, especially over the party line telephone system, which was not scheduled for upgrading to a dial-up system for another two years. More often than not, there would be three or four women on the line, chatting about the latest happenings, or so it seemed. New and leapfrogging technology was making changes to the islander’s way of life, although no-one seemed mindful of it.

Old Peter did, though.  He was 75 years old and had seen many changes to the way of life on the island.  His wife of 50 years had died of leukemia in 45, nearly six years ago and every week he would go to her grave and put fresh flowers on it.  It seemed only yesterday that she had passed away and he often felt quite lonely, even though he was well cared for by his son and daughter-in-law, who took over the farm when he was 69.  He was immensely proud of his grandchildren, a boy and a girl.  They were so full of life and seemed to thrive in their limited environment.

Every morning during the summer, he would go for a walk.  It was nice to see all the green fields, the old trees along the road and smell the fresh, salty breeze that sometimes blew from the ocean. He felt that there was permanence, a sort of eternal feeling to all that he saw, yet he knew this could not endure. Most of his generation had long ago departed for the realm of everlasting rest and peace, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he joined them, but in the meantime, there were still joyful hours and days to contemplate. John and Alfred, contemporaries to Peter, were still alive, both of them 72, and often they would all meet somewhere to talk of the old days, which they all thought were infinitely better than today’s crazy world. Erik and Paul had both passed away a couple of years ago.

Peter reached the stone bench, which really wasn’t a bench as such, but rather a large, elongate boulder, dumped there by glaciers some 10,000 years ago.  It could readily accommodate four people, sitting side by side and it was used for generations.  When he was young, he used to come there with his mom and dad, who often went for a walk in the early evenings or on Sundays.  His grandfather, Cedrik, whom he had known for quite a few years, before he passed away, had also come to the stone bench and often times together with him. It was Cedrik’s father, Kenton, Peter’s great grandfather who had acquired their farm from the lease Lord, Baron Stallman, who had owned the entire island. Prior to the land reform laws, all the farms were leased to individual farmers, who often held the lease for generations, passing it on from father to son, with the Lord’s permission, but no-one ever became prosperous under this feudal system.

 The old stone bench was also the meeting place for Peter, John and Alfred, although they didn’t see each other every day. Today, Alfred showed up and Peter greeted him with a sprightly “Good morning Alfred, what a fine day it is today.  I brought a thermos bottle with coffee.  Did you bring your mug?”

“Yes, I did,” said Alfred, “we can have a cupful now, for I feel like something? I wasn’t hungry for breakfast, but a cup of coffee would suit me fine now.” Peter unscrewed the cap of the thermos, which served as a cup for him, removed the stopper and poured the coffee.

For a while, they sat quietly, sipping the coffee.  It was a tranquil morning, the wind a mere whisper that barely stirred the leaves in the trees.  A male starling was singing nearby and chickadees were fluttering about in the bushes, looking for something to eat, sounding off with their kee,–kee-kee chirps.  Peter put his hand in his pocket and brought out some sunflower seed, held it out and in a flash, a chickadee landed on it, took a seed and flew off again to a bush and began pecking away on the seed, until it got at the kernel inside it.   It kept coming back, until there were no more seeds in Peter’s hand.

“Alfred, said Peter, you are quiet this morning.  Are you feeling OK?”

 “Yes, I’m feeling fine, although I didn’t sleep too well last night.  I got to thinking about the war and the German soldiers that occupied our island.  They sure were a mean lot of bastards, weren’t they?”

 “Oh my God, yes.  I’ll never forget them; they murdered three of our people here.  The captain in charge, what was his name now- Oh yea; it was Gunter Hoffmann, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, said Alfred, I hated those cold, blue eyes of his.  I remember when he had Niels arrested and how they beat him completely senseless, just because he had broken a curfew.  He was never the same after that, was he?”

“No, said Peter, and on top of that, they kept him in that stinking cell for three days without any concern for his horrific condition.  He had several broken ribs and a broken arm.  I remember he was bed-ridden for more than two month after they let him go.”

“Yes, those sons of bitches! Had it been up to me, I would have hung them all after the war was over, but they got away scot free, acting with contempt, when they departed on the ferry, -just as bloody Nazi as ever, said Alfred

 “They never did find out what happened to Captain Hoffmann, did they?”

 “No, no-one saw him leave on the ferry, but he may have stolen a boat and rowed over to the mainland.”

 “No, said Alfred, I don’t think so, for no-one reported a boat stolen.  I think someone came and picked him up  the night just before they were due to leave the island. A Nazi sympathizer or perhaps some German bastard from the mainland he had contacted on the wireless.

 “Well, said Peter, you said that the 16 soldiers left our island just as high and mighty as the day they came, but I can tell you that not all of them did”.

 “How so”, said Alfred.

“Do you remember that big, ugly brute, that sergeant  that raped John’s daughter?”

 “Yes, I sure do, said Alfred, I always wanted to beat the shit out of him, but anyone who tried would probably be killed, we all knew that, so no-one dared.”

 “Well, let me enlighten your mind a bit on that score.  You weren’t the only one that had it in for him.  I think most of us wanted to have a go at the bastard and we eventually did.  You know they were all disarmed on the day of capitulation and we knew they would be sent to the mainland on the ferry the next day.  The night before, we caught the big brute walking outside the barrack they were supposed to be confined in.  There were four of us together, all with one thing on our mind—revenge. We beat him-and beat him, in uncontrolled rage, to within an inch of his life. It felt as if we were taken revenge on him for all the suffering the bloody Nazis had inflicted on us during the last five years.  To make sure he would remember his uninvited stay on our island forever, one of us took a pocket knife and cut a swastika on his forehead and rubbed some dirt into it, to make sure it would make a very visible scar.”

 “My God!” Said Alfred, “No-one ever told me that. How come I never heard that story?”

 “Given we had beat him so bad and didn’t know if he would survive, we thought it was best to keep it to ourselves.  I heard they carried someone aboard the ferry on a stretcher when all the krauts left the morning after, and we simply assumed it was the bastard we had beaten up. By and by, we just slowly forgot about the event, although personally, I still have moments of anger when I think about him. Another piece of news for you, Alfred; John was one of the four of us who beat the son of bitch up, but don’t go getting on his goat for not telling you, even after all these years. It was best to keep it quiet.”

“Well, I’ll be; nothing surprises me anymore”

 “Oh, said Peter, ”I think I have a story or two to tell you that may raise a few hairs on your neck, but that’ll have to wait to another day.  I want to go and collect some gull eggs down on the shore.  There are a lot of nesting birds there this year and Rita, my daughter-in-law, likes to use them in some of her baking.”

They got up, Alfred, leaning a bit hard on his cane, and began walking toward the village, small-talking about this and that along the way. They decided to meet again at the bench the following Sunday.

 Peter headed back to the farm, picked up a basket in the kitchen and told Rita he was going down to the shore to collect gull eggs and asked if she wanted a lot.

 “No, not a lot”, said Rita, “I won’t be doing much baking in the next few days and we have quite a few chicken eggs.  I use half chicken and half gull eggs for a lot of things I bake, so just bring me a couple of dozen, Peter.”

“OK Rita, I’m off. See you in a while. Did you hear from Erik today? “No, said Lisa, “he won’t complete his course for another three days, so I expect he will call tomorrow.”

Peter walked down along the edge of the field leading to the shore.  The barley was knee-high already and it looked like they would have a good harvest. I nice, fresh breeze greeted him when he reached the stony beach and the gulls screeched and buzzed him when he reached their nesting area.  The few cormorants that were about flew out to sea, being more timid than the gulls. He sat down on a rock for a while to rest and looked out over the sea, toward the mainland, visible in the distance.  How often had he not done this through all the years he had lived,  his entire life spent working the land and doing all the things that people on the island traditionally did. Except for the war years, it had been a good life.

 His thoughts drifted back to other times and memories flooded into his mind.  It felt good to remember happy moments, especially when he was young and just married.

 Well, he thought, better get going.  He collected a couple of dozen gull eggs, much to the consternation of the birds, whose screeches increased to a crescendo. He never took more than one eggs from each nest, to ensure that there would be new generations of gulls for the future.

 After finishing collecting the eggs, he headed back to the farm. On the way, he passed by a large boulder and stopped for a minute and looked at it.  The little swastika carved in the corner was still there. A casual observer would probably never notice it, but Peter knew it was there. He felt a cold chill deep inside him. It seemed a lot of bad memories from the war years had surfaced lately, even though five years had passed since those horrible times had come to an end.

Rita greeted him in the kitchen when he returned with the gull eggs. “Do you want some coffee?” she asked.

 “Yeah, why not?” he said. “There was a chilly on-shore wind down by the beach today. Some nice hot coffee would warm up some of those old bones of mine.”

 “John stopped by” she said. “He was wondering where you were and said to tell you he wanted to talk to you.”

“Did he say what about” said Peter.

“No, but he looked kind of upset and it’s not like him to be that way. You know John, he always seem happy and content.”

 “Well, I better go see him.  I’ll be back for lunch.”

 John lived a short walking distance from the farm, but strangely enough, he thought, it had been quite a while since he paid him a visit.  Like himself, John was widowed and lived with his son and daughter-in-law on the farm that had been in his family for many generations. His two daughters had married other young farmer sons on the island.  Peter thought about that, as he was walking down the lane towards John’s place.  Regardless of all the new technology and new ideas that seem to proliferate amongst the younger generations, there was never-the-less some things that stayed the same. Traditions, customs and the local culture were still strong and gave a sense of continuity to the whole island, and that pleased him.

Peter knocked on the door and Vera, John’s daughter-in-law, opened it.  “Well, hello Peter! It’s been a while since you’ve paid us a visit.  How are you? How are things at home?”

 “Oh, just fine” said Peter. “John was down to our place and wanted to see me, but I was down on the beach collecting gull eggs, so I missed him.”

 “I’ll go get him, Peter.  I think he is out in the barn.”

 “No. that’s OK, I’ll go see him there.”

 Peter walked over to the barn where John was sitting on a bale of hay just inside the door.

“Hello John!” he said. “Rita told me you wanted to talk to me.”

 “Yes, said John, I run into Alfred down at the store and we walked home together after he finished shopping. He told me that you had related the story about us beating the shit out of that Nazi brute on the night of the German capitulation.  I thought we had all agreed to keep that event secret.  Why did you tell Alfred?”

 “Well, John, it’s been five years now since the war and those dreadful days came to an end and since Alfred and I are good friends, I thought it would be OK to tell him.”

 “That’s fine for you to say, but can you trust Alfred not to go spreading this all over the Island?”

“Oh, I think so, but even if he did, I don’t see what harm could come of it now.  I’m damned sure that Nazi bastard will never come here again.  If he ever did, I’d make bloody sure he got some more of the same medicine we gave him back in May, 1945.”

 “Well, said John, Eric and Paul are both dead, so they took the secret of their participation in the beating with them to their graves. Now there are only three of us that knows and I hope to Hell Alfred will keep his mouth shut.  What is it they say:  “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

 “I’m sorry, I let the cat out of the bag John, but what’s done is done and we can’t change it now.  It’s all old hat now anyway.”

 “That’s fine, said john, but if any of the women hears about it, the story will be all over the island in a matter of hours.  You know bloody well how they gossip.  If that happens, none of us three will have any peace for a long time.”

 “I’ll have another word with Alfred about it. Why don’t you come out to the stone bench on Sunday?  Alfred and I planned to meet there for coffee and a chat.  It might be OK if he heard the story from you also.”

 “OK, said John, I’ll see you both there then.”

Peter went home again. It was the middle of August and the island was clad in summer’s delightful panorama of colours under a bright blue, sunny sky with capricious cottony clouds sailing in slow, lazy formations across the heavens.  Life was good , thought Peter and inwardly hoped it would always be so.

He heard the phone ringing and Rita answering it.

“Peter”, she shouted.  “It’s Lisa calling from her B&B: she wants to talk to you.”

“Well, whatever ever in carnation does she want” said Peter.  “I haven’t talked to her for ages.”

He grabbed the phone. “Hello Lisa, what’s up”?

 “Hi Peter; It’s been a while since we talked, but look, something odd happened.  A German couple made a reservation a few weeks ago and I thought there was something familiar about the name he gave, Oskar Gunter Hoffman, but then kind of just passed it off. They arrived today and after settling into their room, he came down and asked me if I had known his father, Captain Günter Hoffman, who had been stationed here during the war.

 “My God,” said Peter, “what did you say to him?”

“Jeepers, I was flabbergasted, to say the least, but said that someone with a name sounding like that had been here during the war years. He then asked me if I knew what happened to him, for he had never returned after the war was over.  I just said I had no idea.”

 “Lisa, I’m coming over.  I want to meet that guy.  I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

“OK”, said Lisa; “I’ll see you then.”

 Peter jumped on his bike and peddled in the direction of Lisa’s B&B, all the while he was thinking about what the Hell he was going to say to this guy.  Not in his wildest dreams had he ever thought that some son of Captain Günter Hoffman would ever come here to try and find out about his father.  Either he doesn’t know what kind of a Nazi bastard his father was or he thinks we know what happened to the slime ball.  Well, he thought, I better tell him a thing or two about his ‘dear father’.

 He reached Lisa’s B&B, jumped off his bike and went to the main door, which was partially open.  “Lisa” It’s me, Peter.”

 Lisa came out.  “Hello Peter, it’s been a while since you last came ‘round here.  How are Lisa and Erik?”

 “They are fine.  Erik is away taking a course at the agricultural college.  He’ll be back in a few days. Can we talk in your office?”

“Sure said Lisa, but don’t worry about privacy.  The German and his wife have gone sightseeing along the beach and I don’t expect them back for a while.”

“Tell me what they asked you about Captain Hoffman.”

 “Well, after explaining who he was, he said he had come to investigate why his father was missing.  He had been contacted in his hometown in Germany by someone who had served on this island under his father’s command. He indicated  his father had not left on the ferry with the rest of the troops on May 9, 1945  He asked me if anyone here knew anything about what happened to him, and that’s why I called you.”

 “What did you say to him?”

 “Nothing I could tell.  I haven’t the foggiest notion what happened to that beast.  I’d liked to have seen him getting a real beating before he left”. He was a vicious piece of  German  trash that, for all I care, should have been strung up in the nearest tree.”

 “Well, Lisa, I share your sentiments.  He was a first class bastard but the fact that his son is here looking for information on him suggest that perhaps he is dead or maybe he decided to make a new life for himself in Germany, like taking on a new identity. It won’t do his son, this Oskar Gunter character, any good making inquiries here, since no-one on the island knows what happened to him.”

 “Look!, said Lisa, the Germans are coming up the path now.”

 “OK, I’m going to have a little talk with that fellow. I know you speak English and you said that he speaks English very well, but I really don’t anymore.  I speak a little German, which I picked up during the war years, so perhaps between the two of us, we can talk with him.”

Oskar Hoffman and his wife came in and seeing Peter, he said “Hello, my name is Oskar Gunter Hoffman.  I’m the son of Captain Gunter Hoffmann who was stationed here during the war.”

“And what precisely is it you want here?  No-one on this island thinks of your  bastard father as anything but  a murdering Nazi.”

“That is not true, said Oskar.  He was very highly thought of in my home town.  I was a member of the Hitler Jugend and looked up to him with great respect.”

“Oh, said Peter in halting German, so you were a Nazi in training.  If you think for a minute it makes me feel any better about you, think again. You were just being brain washed into believing all this shit about the superior German Aryan race”.

 Peter paused for a second, trying to think of what else to say in German.  Lisa asked if he wanted her to translate to English anything he said..

 “Yes, said Peter, that would be fine.  Ask him who it was that came looking for his father in his home town.”

 Lisa asked the question in English.

 “It was Sergeant Mueller, who was stationed here during the war, said Oskar.  I’ll never forget his face. He had a scar on his forehead in the shape of a swastika and his nose was badly twisted.  He said someone on the island here had beaten him severely the night before they left the island.  He also told me that my father was not on the ferry when he and the rest of the soldiers left.”

 “Lisa, tell him we all know who he was, and if he ever shows up here again, we can arrange to give him an even worse beating and that no-one here have the foggiest notion as to when and how his father left, and frankly, none of us give a bloody hoot. There is not a person on this island that wouldn’t gladly have seen him dangling in the end of a rope on the day you bastards capitulated.”

 “I see that I have wasted my time coming here, said Oscar.  You are nothing but a stupid farmer who doesn’t know shit from a pile of dung.  It’s too bad my father didn’t sent you to one of our concentration camps when he had the chance.”

 “Lisa! Tell that son of a bitch he is lucky I’m not a younger man.  I would have beaten the shit out of him, for what he just said, but you may inform him if he is still on this island by tomorrow morning, I will arrange for him to leave in a considerable less healthy state than he is in now.”

 “You are threatening me, said Oskar.  How dare you? I’m here as a tourist and haven’t harmed anyone or committed a wrong. You have no right to speak to me like that.”

“Listen here, you piece of shit, you better pack your bags right now and piss off.  The next ferry leaves in less than an hour.  Be on it, if you know what’s good for you.  I’m going to get some of the young fellows together to make sure you leave.  When you get back to Germany, you can inform your asshole friends that they are not welcome here.”

“I’m leaving now Lisa.  Make sure he packs his bags and get him to the ferry.”

“Ok, said Lisa.  I’ll talk to you later. Can I reach you at home?”

“Yes, just call me on the phone and let me know as soon as he has left.”

“Will do, said Lisa.”

Peter jumped on his bike and headed for home. He was furious over what Oskar had said. He had wanted to beat the shit out of him, but that might have created some problems and an unwanted look into what was going on.

 About 15 min after he got home, the phone rang.

“Hi Peter! It’s Lisa.  The Germans left for the ferry a few minutes ago.  It seemed they were in an awful hurry to get going, so I guess they believed what you said about getting together a few younger men  to make sure he and his wife left.”

“Well, I couldn’t be sure if he fell for it, but good thing he did.  I sure don’t want any trouble.”

“But Peter, tell me honestly, do you know what happened to captain Hoffman?”

“No, Lisa, I haven’t the faintest idea.  All I can assume is that he somehow left the island the day before the German soldiers were put on the ferry on May 9, 1945.”

“Oh well, said Lisa, I guess we will never know.  See you soon again and have a nice evening.”

“Thanks Lisa and the same to you.”

Peter hung up the phone and walked into the kitchen to see what was cooking for supper.  Rita was a great cook and a wonderful daughter-in-law.

May 8, 1945

“Hello, is Paul there, this is Peter.”

“Yes, just a minute Peter, I’ll go and get him.”

“Hello Peter! What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you would help me move the two eel traps I have.  There hasn’t been any eels caught in them for some days now and I thought it might be worthwhile moving them.”

“Sure, said Paul, I’ll be right over.”

They met by the barn and began walking down toward the shore.

 “So, I guess we will be rid of those German bastards tomorrow.  I’m not sorry to see that lot of krauts disappear. There’s a couple of them I would like to beat the shit out of.”

“I don’t know if we will get a chance to have a go at any of them.  They are confined to their barracks until tomorrow.  Erik is keeping an eye on them, just in case they try something stupid.”

 “Hey, Look! said Paul, someone is trying to put your boat in the water.”

My God, said Peter, I think it’s captain Hoffman.  He is wearing a uniform,– Jesus, we must stop him.”

 Paul grabbed a piece of driftwood and run toward the captain, shouting for him to stop what he was doing.

“Where the hell do you think you are going with my boat you Nazi bastard?”

The captain drew a pistol from his belt and aimed it at Peter, but at that moment, a large stone was flying through the air, hitting the captain hard on his chest.  The captain fell to the ground and Peter run over, put his foot on his chest and kicked the pistol away.

“Thanks for that, Paul.  I thought for a minute I would be a  goner.”

Peter looked down into the hateful eyes of the captain, then grabbed a large rock and smashed it into his head.  The captains skull split open, his brains and a gushing stream of blood spilled onto the sand at the water’s edge.

 “Well, said Paul, that’s the end of that bastard.  He got what was coming to him and if you hadn’t killed him, I would have.”

“We have to go get a shovel and bury the body.  We just can’t leave it here.”

“If it was up to me, said Paul, I’d just feed him to the crabs, but I guess you are right, we better bury the bastard.  How about over there, behind that large boulder?”

 “That seems Ok to me, said Peter.  I’ll go get a shovel from the barn.  Keep an eye out, just in case someone should come, although I don’t think anyone will,  Very few people ever come down here.”

Peter returned with a shovel and without further to do, they  dug a large hole in the gravelly sand behind the boulder and, after stripping all identifying insignia and removing his personal papers, they unceremoniously dumped the captain’s body in it, put some large stones on top of it and back filled the hole.

 “You know, said Peter, we must keep this incident to ourselves for the rest of our lives.  No-one must ever know what happened here.”

 “For sure, said Paul.”

It was nearly dark when they got back to the farm. They saw Erik and John come running toward them.

“Hey, said Erik, I just saw that bastard sergeant walking outside the barracks.  Let’s go and give him a taste of the kind of island hospitality he deserves.  There are four of us, and even though he is a big brute, we can give him some of the same medicine he has doled out around here the last five years.   Let’s beat the shit out of him- remember, he raped John’s daughter.”

 A couple of weeks later, Peter walked down to the beach and chiseled a small swastika in a corner of the rock behind which captain Hoffman was buried.

This work by K. Beechmount is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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