Secrets, Lies, and Home Invasions 

 Non-descript row of houses

Travis Maudlin is a man of many quirks and peculiarities, much of which he keeps to himself, though some of his oddities can’t be so easily contained. On more than one occasion, his coworkers have noted his habit of muttering to himself under his breath; his almost pathological refusal to use anyone’s name in conversation; his notable discomfort whenever anyone gets closer than three or four feet from him, and his curious tendency to wear the same clothes over and over throughout the month, usually without washing them in between wearings. His colleagues in the technical support unit of the enterprise software division of Bickering Plummet Incorporated in Atlanta universally regard him as the quintessential loner, a “quiet man” who may one day snap and arrive at work in fatigues with something concealed under his jacket. They often express amazement at the fact that he is, in fact, married to a lovely, vivacious woman named Heidi, who, in all respects, is the total antithesis of her husband.

Those who refuse to scratch the surface of Travis’ demeanor have no idea of the dark and troubled man underneath. He, too, is surprised at his good fortune at winning a woman like Heidi, though he often regards their marriage as the proverbial double edged sword. Though she has always acted toward him with nothing but the utmost grace and charm, almost every aspect of her character seems designed to play upon his natural insecurities and paranoia. Again, he’s mostly able to keep the more undesirable of his tendencies to himself, but he cannot help but be totally unnerved by her superficial cheerfulness, her unflagging optimism, and her obsessive extroversion. There are no strangers around Heidi.

Perhaps his greatest fear is that he’ll return home one weekend and find that Heidi has invited one of those home improvement shows in to redesign a room for him. Nothing could be more galling to him than the thought of having a camera crew tramping around in his private life, cajoling Heidi to recount some lovable quirk or colorful tendency of his to win lovely prizes, while they systematically destroy some favorite refuge inside his castle, transforming it with a lousy paint job and cheap furnishings. He’ll hate the results but have to pretend he loves it because the cameras are rolling thus denying him expression of his true feelings about the indignity. This is not an irrational fear on his part, because Heidi is obsessed with the home improvement shows she sees on her favorite cable network, and spends far too much of her time watching them while Travis is at work.

This, my friends, is the painful reality of Travis Maudlin, and his life in the midst of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Careful readers will have already deduced that he is, in fact, who they believe him to be; he did do exactly what everyone remembers him as doing in much the manner that it has been recounted. What most don’t know is the sad tale underneath and that is the subject of this discourse, the forces that drove him to that tragic afternoon of September, 2005, to the pleasant neighborhood in Dunwoody where he shared a modest, but exceptionally comfortable home with Heidi, a dwelling which would forever after be inextricably linked with the While You Were Away Massacre.


Random Thoughts, 16 December 2015

The Vortex, Little Five Points

Exterior of The Vortex, Little Five Points, 12 December 2015

Creating a to do list is often one of the things I never have time to do.

I wonder if Rhonda ever got around to helping that guy.

If the grammar checker in Word is indicative of the current state of technology, we have nothing to fear from Skynet.

I must confess, I originally thought The Walking Dead was a dramatization of the adventures of Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia after their van broke down on tour.

I wonder if people are surprised by the ending of Death of a Salesman.

We should all strive to lead the kind of lives that would cause Westboro Baptist Church to want to protest at our funerals.

I sort of liked the maverick businessman presidential candidate the first time around, when we called him Ross Perot.

Cortana from Microsoft makes me very glad I don’t have pod bay doors that need opening,

Why is the Death Star the iconic image from Star Wars. Didn’t it get blown up?

Just think, if those people on the Titanic had guns, that iceberg never would have stood a chance.

Do people golf in the Gulf?

I have to believe that if Jim Morrison was alive today, he’d probably be wondering why someone buried him. 

Keeping an eye out for motorcyclists on the highway is a lot easier when they’re not zipping in and out of traffic at seventy or eighty miles an hour. 

I really hope no one steals my naked pictures from iCloud. The neighbors would be so embarrassed.

If the members of Aerosmith were to open a Chinese restaurant, would they call it Wok This Way?

Like a Rolling Stone: Pharris Matthew Stribling, 1901-1950


Pharris Matthew Stribling, 1901-1950

My grandfather, Pharris Matthew Stribling, could have been the inspiration behind the song, Papa was a Rolling Stone. I’m not certain of his exact birthdate, but I believe he was born sometime around February or March of 1901, in Lincolnton, Lincoln County, Georgia, the second child and oldest son of Charles and Emily (Flanigan) Stribling. He had three younger brothers, Wendell, Tom, and Charles, and two younger sisters, Marie, and Emilee, in addition to his older sister, Sue.


From left, Marie, Sue holding Tom, Pharris, and Wendell, from around 1910.


When he was fifteen or sixteen, he ran away from home, lied about his age, and attempted to enlist for service in World War I. On his application, he lists his age as eighteen years and three months, which would put his month of birth in March, providing he wasn’t misrepresenting this as well. He made it as a far as Fort McPhearson in Atlanta, before being discharged for filing a fraudulent application. At twenty-one, he left home again and headed to Florida, where he married Edith Irene Baguley Peacock, a widow who was nearly ten years his senior. Edith worked for the DeLand Daily News in Daytona Beach, Florida, and, according to my great aunt Emilee, played and taught piano and knew linotype, a skill she taught my grandfather, which became his lifelong profession.

Not one to settle down, my grandfather headed to West Virginia, where he met my grandmother, Freda Juergens in Sutton around 1928. He may have been working for the Braxton Country Democrat. At the time, he was still married to his first wife, and had to travel back to Florida to divorce her so he could marry my grandmother. There was some urgency in his timing — my grandparents married 9 March 1929 and my mother was born 16 September of that year.

As might be expected, the marriage wasn’t very solid. The 1930 census lists my mother with my grandmother at the home of her parents in Sutton, West Virginia, while my grandfather is listed as a border in Martinsburg, a considerable distance away. My grandmother told me Pharris would take my mother to work with him, and use his lower desk drawer as a makeshift bassinet for her. She also told me that as the marriage was breaking up, he tried to run off with my mother, but didn’t get very far. One of my aunts told me that his sister Sue tried to get him to bring my mother down to Georgia so his father could see her before he died in 1931, but Pharris refused. His sister never forgave him.


Charles and Emily (Flanigan) Striblng.

In the divorce petition filed by my grandmother around 1933, she cited abandonment as the cause and was awarded full custody of my mother. I’m not sure where my grandfather had gone, but one of my cousins has told me his uncle Pharris visited his family in South Carolina rather frequently around that time, and would sometimes be with a woman named Ann, who may or may not have been his wife. A city directory from 1936 has him listed in Anderson, South Carolina, which matches the time and place my cousin recalled. No spouse is listed with him.

In 1940, the census finds him living in a hotel or rooming house in Mobile, Alabama. It also lists his education as high school, fourth year. Mobile was apparently just a stopover for him since the next record on him is a World War II enlistment record from Dallas, Texas dated 27 August 1942. His rank is given as private, enlisted man, with one year of college and his skill is reported as compositor or typesetter. He records his marital status as separated without dependents. According to the form, he was just under six feet tall and weighed two hundred and fifteen pounds.

While living in Texas, he worked at the Dallas Morning News, which is probably what he was doing in 1942. He does not appear to have been deployed overseas. After the war, presumably in Dallas, he met and married Marjorie Hartsfield, who he remained married to for the remainder of his life. Marjorie is said to have worked in some capacity at one of the internment camps in Texas, though I have been unable to track down details on when and where she worked or what she did there. In civilian life, she’d been a teacher. Like Edith Peacock, Marjorie was older than her husband.

Pharris and Marjorie moved to Atlanta around 1948, where he was reunited with my mother, who moved there after she graduated high school in 1947. My mother stated they shared a duplex in West End and records show the address as 577 Holderness Street, S.W. My grandfather was working at the Atlanta Journal. Their reunion was short-lived, unfortunately, as my grandfather suffered a fatal heart attack during a family cookout at their home on 8 July 1950. He was forty-nine years old.

There was a rumor in my family that my grandfather had a son by his first wife. My grandmother told me of a conversation reported to her between my grandfather and a bus driver where my grandfather claimed he was going to visit his son. I was never able to learn much from my great-aunts or uncles, but I did track down the estate records of his first wife who died in 1982, and she makes no mention of any living sons or daughters and has no children listed with her on the 1930 or 1940 census.

As one might imagine, my grandfather had a rather colorful reputation among his family, though they do seem to have remained in touch with one another. My cousin recalled he liked to bet on horse races and was friends with a well-known sports writer of the time. Other than this, I rarely heard stories of him within the family and had not yet started researching my family’s past and did not think to ask about him while his brothers and sisters were still living. Consequently, the information I have on him is very spotty and mostly compiled from the few records he left behind. He died twelve years and nine months before I was born.

Foot Soldiers in the War on Xmas

Christmas Wreath

Every Christmas season, alongside numerous productions of A Christmas Carol, someone in the media will raise the specter of a “War on Christmas!” One pundit has made it his stock in trade to lament how every year more Christmas traditions are under fire, driving Christians underground in their observance of the season, lest the politically correct thought police kick down their doors and cart them off to re-education camps where they quickly learn to say “Happy Holidays” or else. To the best of my knowledge, however, no one in the US has ever been arrested for wishing someone “Merry Christmas” and unless one attends a mosque in Texas, it’s unlikely armed vigilantes will station themselves outside one’s place of worship to disrupt the practice of one’s faith.

The notion of there being a war on Christmas is nothing new. I recall a song from the 70s or 80s where the singer told listeners “Don’t wish me Merry Xmas,” and as a child, I frequently heard grownups railing against people who abbreviated the holiday in this manner. Use of an X in place of the word “Christ” is not a modern phenomenon, however; it was a traditional method of abbreviating the name, dating back hundreds of years, even showing up in parish registers in England in the sixteenth century. In some old documents I’ve seen, for instance, the name Christopher is sometimes rendered as “Xopher”. Since the X forms a cross, it was commonly used as a stand-in for Christ. The English letter X also represents the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek rendering of the term used for Jesus. While the use of Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas may have evolved over time, originally it had nothing to do with “removing Christ” from the holiday, since the X or cross was synonymous with Christ.

Growing up in the Methodist church, I was constantly warned that anti-Christian forces were clamoring at the gates, anxious to take away all our observances and impose their pagan ways on us all. This line of thinking completely ignored the fact that Christmas started out as a pagan feast day commemorating the Winter solstice, that was adopted by the early church to make the transition to Christianity more palatable to pagan converts. One of the earliest wars on Christmas, in fact, was conducted by Puritans in the US who refused to observe the holiday precisely because of its pagan origins. It wasn’t until the mid-19th and early-20th centuries that the holiday we now celebrate began to gain in popularity. Works like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore helped to revive interest in it.

Anyone who believes there is a war on Christmas in the US has obviously never ventured outside his or her house after the first of November, nor viewed any television station not owned by Rupert Murdoch. In fact, the “Christmas season” starts earlier and earlier each year, now commencing sometime around Halloween. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that next years hottest Halloween ensemble is Santa and his elves. Yet every year, pronouncements of a war on Christmas outnumber showings of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

If any holiday in the US is under attack, it’s Thanksgiving, which is increasingly overlooked in the weeks between Halloween and Black Friday. As it stands, many simply regard it as a day to watch football and eat too much. Retailers, in collusion with the media, have turned this truly American observance into little more than Black Friday’s Eve in the rush to start the Christmas season and get people spending money. Stores, which were once closed on Thanksgiving, now open late in the day to lure in early shoppers and the focus is always on who’ll be camping out at stores that night to get the best values the following morning rather than being grateful for the good fortune one has experienced throughout the year.

Wishing someone Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas need not diminish one’s enjoyment of the season, and in fact, it’s usually companies and not individuals who are expected to be accommodating in this manner. It is merely an acknowledgement of the fact that we live in a diverse society where not everyone follows the same customs. Despite the ire of many pundits on television and radio, this is actually a good thing. Diversity should be celebrated as it is the sign of a healthy and vibrant society. Plenty of people still say Merry Christmas, and I’ve yet to hear of any of them losing their jobs or disappearing in the middle of the night because of it. If one is assured in one’s faith, tolerance of other people’s beliefs should not represent a threat.

To foster the notion of a war on Christmas means there must be forces conducting this war and holding this belief accomplishes little more than to set one community of faith against another. There’s enough hostility in the world as it is without inventing reasons for more. Despite one’s religious background, or lack there of, the idea of peace on earth and good will towards all is a notion we should each strive to embrace.