Category: Interesting Media

Buckskin Bill: The Man, the Legend

Buckskin Bill

It was 1976, and I was invited to float Idaho’s Main Salmon River on an early spring training trip for Western Rivers Expeditions. Those were the days when Jack Curry owned and ran the company. Jack’s son Steve, Joe Van Leeuwen, and a few others needed some extra training hours, so we set out for a leisurely 5-day trip on the river from Corn Creek to Riggins.

A trip down the river was always filled with excitement. Decent whitewater was the main attraction. The wildlife and scenery were spectacular. But the chance to meet and visit with one of the last remaining mountain men in existence was what excited me the most!

The name Sylvan Ambrose Hart might not mean anything to most folks. But like a lot of famous people whose names were changed to fit their image, people simply don’t recognize them by their real names. But in Idaho fifty or sixty years ago, if you asked anyone along the Salmon River if they had heard of Buckskin Bill, the answer would be yes.

In 1932, Hart left civilization and headed for the hills – literally. He found Five Mile Bar on the Main Salmon River and decided to stay. There were no roads, no telephones, no nothing that resembled civilization. The nearest community was 40 miles away, and you had to walk to get there. There were, however, some old frontiersmen living nearby – leftovers from the horse and buggy generation who had settled in the area long before the industrial revolution took over. But Hart was young, and they were old; it wasn’t long before he was the last one living in the neighborhood of thousands of acres of forest and wilderness.

According to one report, Hart took a reporter to the exact spot and pointed out the place where “he had lived when newly come to the Salmon in 1932, sleeping under a tree and doing his baking in a stone oven. His land was a placer mining claim then, and Hart bought 50 acres for one dollar.”  

The time lapse from 1932 to when my boat pulled into the back eddy and drifted up to Buckskin’s sandbar was exactly 44 years. In that time, Hart evolved from a newcomer to a legend. It wasn’t long before his fame spread far and wide all along the river corridor and into numerous magazines and books. Even a writer for Sports Illustrated in 1966 had to meet and write about the legend.

Before long, someone started calling him Buckskin Bill and the name Sylvan Ambrose Hart drifted out of memory. According to his own history, Hart spent a lot of time in the early days with those old frontier neighbors, picking their brains for all the information he could gather on living and thriving in a remote, unforgiving environment. He was a smart guy and remembered and applied what they taught him.

Of all the famous people from Idaho, Buckskin Bill is arguably the most unique. Who could argue with that? Anyone who met him, saw his place on the river, viewed his medieval suits of armor, including his Spanish Conquistador helmet, his hand-made flintlock rifles, knives, and cannons, or his specially built rock fortress on the hill above his cabins, they would know he was a man to be reckoned with and respected.

People like Sylvan Hart don’t come along every day. What would make a person want to live a solitary life, alone in the wilderness of Idaho? Every person that pulled-up to his sandbar asked the same questions. What is his story? Where did he come from and what led him to that spot on the river? Humans are social creatures, they surmised. Holing-up as a hermit along the Salmon River, famously known as the “River of no return,” could get dreary and lonesome.

In one of his many interviews, Hart related this story regarding people coming around his place. He said, “Five Mile Bar is the only place on the river with good firewood. That’s because there’s never been a woman here. A woman sets around the stove all day burning fuel.” Besides, Buckskin implies, he doesn’t regard too kindly some of the women he does see.

“I was taking a little bath in the river one day when I heard all this hollering and screaming. I had just had time to get on my long red underwear and these women came round the bend yelling that their rubber boat was leaking.”

“I hauled them out, prob’ly saved their lives, and all the while those frozen-faced women were sitting there looking disapproving. Well, first, I had less hide showing than they did, and then I don’t think they were showing any proper appreciation a’tall.”

“I’ve got six months, from November on, when this place is just like it’s always been,” Hart said. “Nobody visits, and I get mail twice a month. If I want to go anywhere, I put a pack on my back, get my gun, take off and stay as little or as long as I like. What more could you want?” (SI)

As I walked up the sandbar and approached an assortment of log shelters partially hidden beneath a grove of trees, I saw a medium sized man wearing western clothes and topped with an oddly shaped hat emerge from one of the cabins. He was shorter than I imagined. And he looked a lot less intimidating. After all the stories I had heard, I figured Buckskin Bill was as tall as Bigfoot and likely just as ornery!

The man that approached was a kindly looking, aged man with a big smile who welcomed us to his place in a kind, gentlemanly tone. His conquistador helmet seemed as natural as the rock fortress jutting out on the face of the hill above. Buckskin Bill remembered Steve Curry and during the introductions and small-talk, Buckskin commented how pretty Steve’s wife looked. “She’s welcome to stay here with me and you can pick her up next week!” he said jokingly.

“Naw, she’ll stay with me,” Steve said with a wry grin. His wife made no reply, but her eyes and facial expression said exactly what she thought. I made a mental note regarding the oddity of the two men talking about an intelligent, grown woman like she wasn’t even there.

We were all invited into Buckskin’s cooking cabin. He had just finished building a large table made from a flat, granite rock. I wondered how he had maneuvered that giant rock into place with just himself to move it about. I imagined some bloody knuckles and smashed fingers after that job was done. He showed us some of his knives, hand-carved wooden eating utensils, a few pots, pans, and other cooking essentials he was proud of. Then he went off on a tangent about how tough things were before he built all the nice amenities contained in the room where we stood. My mind drifted off as I looked over all his creations. I thought, “When you’re all alone with plenty of time on your hands – no TVs, phones, jobs, or meetings – you can get a lot done.”

Next, we walked a short distance to his armory. Inside was what you would imagine seeing in an 18th century warrior’s inner sanctuary. There were swords, big knives, and old-fashioned rifles that looked like they belonged to a small army from a bygone era. A couple of the guns had the horned barreling known in the history books as a blunderbuss. He talked about the time and talent it took to make a gun from scratch, including rifling the barrel and creating and applying all the detailing and inner mechanisms that made the gun work. I was in awe.

As we parted company and my group began to head to the boats, I recalled a conversation from the previous summer that seemed to define the moment. It was a large group of city folks, all quizzing Buckskin on his primitive lifestyle and how he survived living alone and so far from civilization. One woman chimed-in with a cogent inquiry. “Mr. Hart,” she said, “What would you do if you were out working on some project, for example, or you were up in the forest hunting and you accidentally broke your leg?”

Without missing a beat, Buckskin Bill said, “Ma’am, we don’t get broken legs around here!”

Sylvan Ambrose Hart died in 1980. He had lived and survived 48 years in some of the roughest country on the planet. He made the phrase, “living off the grid” into a doable lifestyle. But the one thing that defined him best in my opinion was the fortress he built into the side of the hill.

“What did you build that for, anyway?” a man in my group asked.

“Well, in that rock structure is a large cannon I specially designed for one purpose only. In fact, it’s aimed directly at where we’re standing.” Then, Buckskin Bill folded his arms and in a serious tone he said, “I let the U.S. Forest Service know if they pulled their boats up to this sandbar one more time to bother me about my place here, I was going to blow their boats and them completely out of the water!”

Nobody should mess with a man who wears an ancient warrior helmet and builds his own guns. I haven’t been past Buckskin Bill’s place in years. But the memories of him and all the relics and stories he left behind will linger on in my mind for the rest of time.

(SI) See Sports Illustrated, Issue, October 3, 1966

Healed by an Indian Woman: Disease in Early Idaho

Native American Sweat Lodge

Harry Hicks was a young boy in 1924 when he got scarlet fever. The doctor in Salmon thought it was diphtheria and gave him a shot of a new serum that had just hit the market. The old doctor didn’t know how to give the shot, as it went into Harry’s kidney and laid him up for nearly six months. Shortly after that, the boy contracted what he called, “rheumatic rheumatism.” He was “coated all over with Ergophene Ointment, then wrapped up like a mummy in wax paper to cure the rheumatism.” He was also given “beef iron and wine” along with ‘niter and sugar’ to boost kidney function.

It was soon decided that Harry’s condition was caused by tonsilitis. So, the doctor came by to remove them. According to Harry’s history, “The doctor cut all the left side of my throat out. All the doctor could do was clamp off the bleeding artery with a large horse clamp borrowed from Seth Mathews. My throat was clamped inside to outside with that huge horse clamp, which was hung from the ceiling on a wire.”

To help matters, Harry’s mother Clyta rigged-up a medieval contraption by tying “two bacon cords to each big toe, and when I had too much pain, I would relieve the pain by the simple purpose of creating a greater pain by pulling on the cords to my toes, which had loops in the end for my middle fingers.”  

Some folks today might scoff at the way things were handled a hundred years ago. But life histories, journals, and social studies books are packed full of stories of brutality in dealing with illness and disease before modern medical advancements.

I’ve been intrigued by the history of medicine. I’ve seen some amazing medicinal marvels over the years that I witnessed first-hand. And I’ve read numerous stories and articles of both victories and utter failures regarding treatment of illness. Keep in mind, we’re not too far removed from the era “blood-letting” to cure common maladies.

Yap Culture

I lived in Micronesia back in the early 1980s on the small atoll of Yap. There, the indigenous doctors took care of medical emergencies and illnesses. They were trained in the art of natural remedies. And believe-it-or-not, I’ve seen some miraculous things done at the hands of those indigenous practitioners.

One day, a guy burned his leg on his boat’s engine exhaust. The hot pipe had burned into the man’s flesh and looked horrible and painful. The doctor ran into the jungle and came back moments later with a bunch of leaves and other stuff. He chanted some ancient rhyme while he chewed on the leaves for a few minutes, then took the gooey poultice out of his mouth and applied it to the man’s wound. Then he secured it in place with some coconut fiber twine.

The injured man visited that doctor for the next few days and had the same treatment each time. After five or six days, the man’s leg was completely healed and all that remained was a red spot. At that point, I became a believer in natural remedies.

So, move forward 40 years. The year 2020 will be marked in global history books as the year the COVID-19 pandemic got traction. Yes, the virus was recognized in Wuhan, China in 2019, but at the time, it was little more than a potential epidemic. And yes, people will attempt to investigate the exact place of the virus’ exact origin for at least the next hundred years. Theories abound.

With sickness or the potential for sickness comes numerous ways humans have devised to combat contracting illnesses. Many forms of illness are intentionally contracted to bolster immunity through antibodies. Does anyone remember when mothers would send their kids over to play with other kids that had chicken pox?

I got chicken pox the first day of summer vacation after first grade. It was horrible! I lost a couple weeks of playtime; I was in bed feeling miserable when other kids were out riding bikes. Mumps was a thing in those days, too. My dad and I had mumps at the same time – I was around 10 years-old at the time. Mom put us in the same room where we languished for over a week with swollen neck glands. And that is the time dad introduced me to Louis L’Amour. We read 10 or 15 of his greatest novels and the world of western heroes came alive to me.

Because inoculations have pretty much wiped-out diseases like chicken pox, mumps, measles, and polio – all dreaded illnesses when I was a kid – we don’t worry so much about them anymore. In fact, I’d bet that kids today would not even know what you were talking about if you brought them up. They’re things talked about in history books now.

But how were things before widespread immunities became a thing? Specifically, how did early Idahoans deal with disease? First, we must consider the fact that vaccines for diseases were not as ubiquitous in those days. Yes, scientists were in the labs looking for ways to boost immunities to disease, but the field was relatively new. And remember that antibiotics that battle bacterial infections were not widely available until the mid-1900s. So, all the bacterial infections that invariably become a problem when viruses strike had to be dealt with through home remedies and other medical concoctions.

A couple years after Harry’s tonsils were removed, he contracted Bright’s disease. A lot of kids in Salmon were dying from this malady at the time. According to the research I performed, Bright’s Disease, as it was known in the early 1900’s, is today known as a class of kidney disease described in modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis. Harry spoke of his experience with Bright’s Disease in his life history. Here is the story in his own words.

“While being farmed out to round up wild horses in the mountains near Challis, I got sick and was once more to feel the worry and fear of sickness, for I swelled all up with Bright’s Disease and Dropsy. Even my eyes swelled up. I became puffy and kind of glazed all over from the water build-up.

My mother came up to get me, and I felt like everything would be alright. I was so relieved, I fell asleep and when I woke up, we were in Salmon. I had to lay in bed propped up because of my heart splashing in the water every time it would beat.

Momma put me in the backroom and told me to be quiet, the doctor was coming with the undertaker, and crying, she told me they were going to take me away.

“Clyta,” said the doctor, “We came for that dead boy. It’s against the law not to bury a body when they die!”

I immediately raised up in my bed and yelled, “You get out of here you son-of-a-bi*ch! You’ve made your last mistake!” I was remembering the other times with my tonsils and kidneys – he about killed me.

Some time after they left, an Indian woman appeared at our door and said over and over, “I can fix the boy; I can fix the boy!” I can never praise my mother enough for the spunk it took and the nerve to turn the doctor from our door and tell him an Indian woman was going to be my doctor. How he cursed my mother and told her she was just inviting death and I would surely die.

After preparations were made, the Indian woman took me down by the river where there were plenty of round wash boulders. She had a fire burning with plenty of big rocks heating. There was a cot set up with a tub of water setting underneath.

The Indian woman, chanting all the while, gave me a cupful of slippery elm bark tea, hot and so slippery and slimy you could not quit drinking once you started. The slime would just slip down your throat by the siphon method. Then laying me on the cot, she threw a horse blanket over me and then began to throw the hot rocks in the tub of water.

I lay and the sweat poured out of me; I reveled in every drop because I felt better all the time, and I drank my slippery elm bark tea every so often. Along about midnight, the swelling went out of my body, and I was able to go pee for the first time in about a week. I was passing dirty looking, old brown water – brown because it was mixed with blood.

The ordeal kept up for about 24 hours until I went down to normal size – just a little puffiness around my face. Not long after that, I was standing on the sidewalk by our house enjoying the summer sun when the doctor drove past. I thumbed my nose at him, but he didn’t recognize me.” (Harry Hicks History)

After reading Harry Hicks’ story about the Indian woman curing his disease when the local doctors could do nothing, I imagine all of Harry’s kids and grandkids and other descendants being thankful for that wonderful woman and her knowledge of the old ways of healing. She saved their dear father and grandfather’s life.

Being a Second in a First-Rate Series

“Wild” Hammer Work

Ten years ago, Beau Stephenson invited me to work on-set as a paid second for the Discovery Channel documentary series, Gold Fever. The documentary was a look at the historic California gold rush and some of the people involved. It was a rough-and-tumble time in U.S. history. I had never worked on a movie set, so everything was new and intriguing. Being from Idaho, I liked the idea of portraying a ‘rough-and-tumble’ miner from the old times. I had ancestors who blazed trails in the mining business.

My job was to look mean, worn-out, and hungry for gold. I was to pound nails on a huge wooden dam, carry lumber, dig for gold, run a sluice, fight in a small army, and look tough. It wasn’t that hard; not much different than growing up in Idaho digging post holes, fixing fence, picking rocks, milking cows, fighting with my brother, bucking hay bales, and anything else dad told me to do, or else! Being in the movies is fun business. Here’s how it went for me.

After taking care of all the HR preliminaries, I went into the dressing area, got into my ‘work clothes,’ then went over to make-up – another first sitting in the chair and getting – well, made-up! I walked out of there looking like a grime-ridden 1800’s western laborer who needed a bath. I grabbed a bite to eat in the food tent, then boarded a bus and rode out to the set along with all the other rough-looking characters cast for the show.

The set was located along a river, west of Brigham City, Utah, USA, out in the middle of nowhere. It looked typical to me, with a few campers dotting the landscape, a big wooden dam in the distance, some old camping tents, and a bunch of props. The huge cameras set up nearby looked completely out of place. I asked a question I’m sure some others were wondering. “Can I pull out my phone and take pictures?” The guy in charge said, “Sure! I don’t care, as long as it’s not on camera!”

“Cool!” I mumbled under my breath.

My first scene was to hoist a couple boards on my shoulder and walk them over to the dam and hand them up to a worker at the top. On the signal, I did what I was told and tried to act natural as I made my way along, trying not to trip, stumble, or fall. Once the scene was over, I thought, “Hmmm, not bad. I think I can do this ‘acting’ stuff.

The director said, “Good job, man. You looked good! Just don’t talk! You’re not getting paid to talk!”

“Okay,” I thought. I’ll be a mute dam builder.

It doesn’t take long to figure out how things are done on the set to make scenes look, sound, and feel authentic and real. For our purposes, there were smoke machines and filters to make everything the camera saw look old. I also took note of the angles, background, foreground, and all other elements present. It was fun and easy. The small talk and camaraderie of the rest of the actors in the cast was fun and a bit entertaining. There was a lot of downtime between scenes when we ate, relaxed, snoozed, and joked around with each other.

One time, an assistant director came over and asked if I and some other guys would be in some B-reel he was shooting. “Absolutely, man!” We walked out and waited for him to instruct us where to be and what to do. This AD was kind of a smart-aleck who had pissed me off earlier when he got lippy over something somebody said or did. I could tell he was trying to impress his boss – bullying his way up the company ladder. It was in my blood to even the score – I could hear my ancient Hicks ancestors who fought oppression hundreds of years before calling for me to act!

I got my assignment, which was to swing a hammer and pound nails into the dam. I got a few nails started. Then when the camera began to roll, I swung my hammer as hard as I could, then let up just as the hammer head hit the nail. I figured the herky-jerky movement of my arm swinging wildly would cause the AD to blow a head fuse. I could passively get even with him for being a jerk earlier. He did go a bit nuts over what I was doing, but he didn’t re-shoot! Funny thing was, the film editor put a full shot of me being an idiot in the movie, and it actually looked awesome on screen!

The few days I worked on that set were fun and memorable. For sure, the most satisfying part of working on a movie is seeing the final product. Being on TV is cool and a bit surprising. It’s interesting to view the scenes, remember the exact moment when the camera was rolling, and then observe what the camera saw.

If you’re sitting around wondering what to do, go on Amazon and buy the movie, Gold Fever. It’s a good flick, is well-done, entertaining, and covers an interesting if not dangerous part of U.S. history. Check it out.  

The Art of Life: Take Me Back to Salmon

Good Times (Salmon, Idaho)

As a writer, I think in terms of words, phrases, and scripts. I love dialogue – the sharing of words between people. A lot can be learned from what is said or not said. I’ve always argued that a well-written scene is better than any photo. Arguably, however, a well-written scene and an accompanying photo will always hit a home-run in the literary sense.

I’ve done a lot of writing over the years. My first story was a four-page third-person narrative about an Indian boy named Two Wolves. I wrote it in Mrs. Harris’ fourth-grade class for a journaling assignment. The story, in my mind, was worthy of awards. None came – only recess. But my foray into storytelling had begun, and I couldn’t stop the flow of ideas and words.

I suppose like most writers, I carry four or five – sometimes more – plot lines around in my mind. As often as possible, I scribble a few notes about the plot so I can easily recall them later. Most of these plots involve protagonists doing heroic things – saving people, looking out for the underdogs, winning the hearts of their true loves. Some are even revenge stories where the good guy wins, either with fists or wit or both.  

But sometimes the plots involve people similar to the way I existentially view myself – just ordinary people doing ordinary things, but with passion! What I call the “art of life.” These simple but profound plots include basking in sunsets, walking beaches, story times with kids, contemplating the future, exploring abandoned places, and being in love – real, true love.

I also love nostalgia. I like all things ‘old.’ Old mines, old cabins, old houses sitting on a hill, old, gnarly trees, old people with a story to tell. I love sitting around telling stories about the good ol’ days. Of course, the good ol’ days are different for everyone. But I think every person thinks their version of those days are the greatest in some way. I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. I left home in 1982 after graduating from high school and never looked back – only in memories. And those memories are special.

About twenty years ago, I was visiting my hometown, Salmon, Idaho. It was a family outing with my kids. We jumped off the bridge into the river after rafting and tubing our favorite section – from the Shoup Bridge to the Island Park. Like every visit, my kids tried their best to talk me into moving the family to Salmon. I guess they wanted what I had growing up. It’s really what every kid deserves.

During that visit, I had some words pop into mind. After a few minutes of playing with and arranging those words, I came up with this simple, five-stanza poem about the Salmon River. It speaks to what I was feeling at that moment and perhaps since. Perhaps we will all eventually return to our roots and reclaim in some intrinsic way what was once ours.

Mother River

Peering out from my vantage on the shore,
The cool breeze cradled my nostalgic soul.
Inner weeping for buried memories of before,
Resulted in remembrance of my youthful goals.

That ole meandering, rolling, raging flow,
Traveling onward – flowing onward to the sea,
Cloaked at times ‘midst the fog’s heavy glow,
Keeps rhythm, a cadence to Nature’s simplicity.

Fertile banks guide those anxious currents.
Adorned lush in spring, barren in fall,
She’s mothered her hungry brood with opulence,
Nurturing Nature’s balance, her greatest call.

‘Twas my river, my home, I dwelt here long ago!
Sharing claim with others, our sentiments the same,
We tread her banks as children. Running to and fro,
All basked in her beauty and wild torrents of fame.

Gone are those moments of mirth and swank regaling,
Of each new day – loving life near my river’s banks.
But the memories! The gist of nostalgia’s lonely hailing,
Cause my soul to weep with joy and give God thanks.  

One Day, God Rode the Brooklyn Subway

(Sunnyside Post)

Some stories need no introduction. But if there was one, I would say this particular tale restored my faith in humanity. The stories taught in this short story are exactly the values I learned Growing Up in Idaho.

Marcel Sternberger was a methodical man of nearly 50, with bushy white hair, guileless brown eyes, and the bouncing enthusiasm of a czardas dancer of his native Hungary. He always took the 9:09 Long Island Railroad train from his suburban home to Woodside, N.Y.., where he caught a subway into the city.

On the morning of January 10, 1948, Sternberger boarded the 9:09 as usual. En route, he suddenly decided to visit Laszlo Victor, a Hungarian friend who lived in Brooklyn and was ill.

Accordingly, at Ozone Park, Sternberger changed to the subway for Brooklyn, went to his friend’s house, and stayed until midafternoon. He then boarded a Manhattan-bound subway for his Fifth Avenue office. Here is Marcel’s incredible story:

The car was crowded, and there seemed to be no chance of a seat. But just as I entered, a man sitting by the door suddenly jumped up to leave, and I slipped into the empty place. I’ve been living in New York long enough not to start conversations with strangers. But being a photographer, I have the peculiar habit of analyzing people’s faces, and I was struck by the features of the passenger on my left. He was probably in his late 30s, and when he glanced up, his eyes seemed to have a hurt expression in them. He was reading a Hungarian-language newspaper, and something prompted me to say in Hungarian, “I hope you don’t mind if I glance at your paper.”

The man seemed surprised to be addressed in his native language. But he answered politely, “You may read it now. I’ll have time later on.”

During the half-hour ride to town, we had quite a conversation. He said his name was Bela Paskin. A law student when World War II started, he had been put into a German labor battalion and sent to the Ukraine. Later he was captured by the Russians and put to work burying the German dead. After the war, he covered hundreds of miles on foot until he reached his home in Debrecen, a large city in eastern Hungary.

I myself knew Debrecen quite well, and we talked about it for a while. Then he told me the rest of his story. When he went to the apartment once occupied by his father, mother, brothers and sisters, he found strangers living there. Then he went upstairs to the apartment that he and his wife once had. It also was occupied by strangers. None of them had ever heard of his family.

As he was leaving, full of sadness, a boy ran after him, calling “Paskin bacsi! Paskin bacsi!” That means “Uncle Paskin.” The child was the son of some old neighbors of his. He went to the boy’s home and talked to his parents. “Your whole family is dead,” they told him. “The Nazis took them and your wife to Auschwitz.”

Auschwitz was one of the worst Nazi concentration camps. Paskin gave up all hope. A few days later, too heartsick to remain any longer in Hungary, he set out again on foot, stealing across border after border until he reached Paris. He managed to immigrate to the United States in October 1947, just three months before I met him.

All the time he had been talking, I kept thinking that somehow his story seemed familiar. A young woman whom I had met recently at the home of friends had also been from Debrecen; she had been sent to Auschwitz; from there she had been transferred to work in a German munitions factory. Her relatives had been killed in the gas chambers. Later she was liberated by the Americans and was brought here in the first boatload of displaced persons in 1946.

Her story had moved me so much that I had written down her address and phone number, intending to invite her to meet my family and thus help relieve the terrible emptiness in her life.

It seemed impossible that there could be any connection between these two people, but as I neared my station, I fumbled anxiously in my address book. I asked in what I hoped was a casual voice, “Was your wife’s name Marya?”

He turned pale. “Yes!” he answered. “How did you know?”

He looked as if he were about to faint.

I said, “Let’s get off the train.” I took him by the arm at the next station and led him to a phone booth. He stood there like a man in a trance while I dialed her phone number.

It seemed hours before Marya Paskin answered. (Later I learned her room was alongside the telephone, but she was in the habit of never answering it because she had so few friends and the calls were always for someone else. This time, however, there was no one else at home and, after letting it ring for a while, she responded.)

When I heard her voice at last, I told her who I was and asked her to describe her husband. She seemed surprised at the question, but gave me a description. Then I asked her where she had lived in Debrecen, and she told me the address.

Asking her to hold the line, I turned to Paskin and said, “Did you and your wife live on such-and-such a street?”

“Yes!” Bela exclaimed. He was white as a sheet and trembling.

“Try to be calm,” I urged him. “Something miraculous is about to happen to you. Here, take this telephone and talk to your wife!”

He nodded his head in mute bewilderment, his eyes bright with tears. He took the receiver, listened a moment to his wife’s voice, then suddenly cried, “This is Bela! This is Bela!” and he began to mumble hysterically. Seeing that the poor fellow was so excited he couldn’t talk coherently, I took the receiver from his shaking hands.

“Stay where you are,” I told Marya, who also sounded hysterical. “I am sending your husband to you. We will be there in a few minutes.”

Bela was crying like a baby and saying over and over again. “It is my wife. I go to my wife!”

At first I thought I had better accompany Paskin, lest the man should faint from excitement, but I decided that this was a moment in which no strangers should intrude. Putting Paskin into a taxicab, I directed the driver to take him to Marya’s address, paid the fare, and said goodbye.

Bela Paskin’s reunion with his wife was a moment so poignant, so electric with suddenly released emotion, that afterward neither he nor Marya could recall much about it.

“I remember only that when I left the phone, I walked to the mirror like in a dream to see if maybe my hair had turned gray,” she said later. “The next thing I know, a taxi stops in front of the house, and it is my husband who comes toward me. Details I cannot remember; only this I know—that I was happy for the first time in many years.”

“Even now it is difficult to believe that it happened. We have both suffered so much; I have almost lost the capability to not be afraid. Each time my husband goes from the house, I say to myself, Will anything happen to take him from me again?”

Her husband is confident that no horrible misfortune will ever again befall the two of them. “Providence has brought us together,” he says simply. “It was meant to be.”

Skeptical persons will no doubt attribute the events of that memorable afternoon to mere chance. But was it chance that made Marcel Sternberger suddenly decide to visit his sick friend and hence take a subway line that he had never ridden before? Was it chance that caused the man sitting by the door of the car to rush out just as Sternberger came in? Was it chance that caused Bela Paskin to be sitting beside Sternberger, reading a Hungarian newspaper?

Was it chance—or did God ride the Brooklyn subway that afternoon?

Paul Deutschman, Great Stories Remembered, edited and compiled by Joe L. Wheeler

Take Back Your Life

Voice Write Media (Jeff Hicks)

Are you enslaved by daily habits or influences that stifle your productivity? Do you find yourself being plagued with tasks and activities that do not contribute to your personal goals and ideals? Here are a few simple steps to take back your life. As a kid growing up in Idaho, I learned values of hard work, self-reliance, and productivity. These simple measures explain how to accomplish that.

Personal Guiding Principles Statement
Everyone must draw-up and incorporate a few principles that will guide their decisions and activities in life. Nearly every person recognizes their own basic values that are learned from childhood. However, surprisingly, people often don’t construct those values into a fluid structure that will guide their decisions and activities. So, at the moment of decision, those people are not resolute and often get pegged with being wishy-washy, weak, or ineffective. If you are one of those people, you can overcome that weakness by creating a personal guiding principles statement (P-GPS).

Imagine yourself hiking through a thick forest without any distinct trail that will guide you to your destination. The beauty of the forest is magnificent as you bask in the exquisite colors and sounds surrounding you. However, you are troubled because the further you walk into the forest, the more lost you become since there is no defined trail. With the tall trees surrounding you, you are unable to determine your location or direction of travel.

Suddenly, you remember the GPS in your front pocket. After turning it on, you are quickly able to mark your location and the direction of your destination in relation to your surroundings. That is exactly what your P-GPS will do for you personally as you navigate whatever paths you choose in your career and personal life. Your P-GPS distinctly defines your personal “position” in context with your chosen surroundings and environment.

Your P-GPS is a statement containing some broad descriptors that explicitly define you. It’s a good idea to use terms in your statement that are broad and general, in order to cover all the vast expanse that defines your purpose and existence. Here is my P-GPS. Be compassionate and virtuous, honest and ethical, real and present, open minded but solid in my convictions.

You may be asking, “What does a P-GPS have to do with personal and time management?” The answer is your P-GPS is the foundation of principles and values with which your daily life is structured. In fact you may even recognize that the values contained in your P-GPS guided your educational choices, career path, and the other major elements in your life that subsequently dictate what your daily tasks entail.

Core Ideals that Dictate Actions
Every person has a few things with which they “hang their hat.” These ideals dictate a person’s views and actions and usually influence a person’s daily and weekly routine. Here’s an example. Consider all the people you know who follow a strict religious standard of Sunday worship. One of their personal ideals that govern their activities is the belief that Sunday is a day of rest and should be reserved for religious service and worship. Each Sunday, these folks make a conscious decision to be sitting in the pews at church. In contrast, consider your friends who find Sunday solace by visiting nature. Every weekend, they head for the hills to partake of nature’s beauty and serenity. Both of these groups have Sunday ideals but define them differently.

In order to take control of your personal life and manage your time effectively, you must determine what your core ideals are. Take some time, be true and honest with yourself, and define your core ideals. As an example, I’ve listed my core ideals:

  1. happiness and safety of my wife and children
  2. belief in God, daily prayer, Sunday church worship
  3. career for professional growth and income
  4. education

As you confirm your core ideals, you will recognize how they influence the daily and weekly activities in your life. If you are firm in those ideals, you will not allow outside influences on a whim to alter your actions based on those ideals. You will soon be recognized as one resolute in your goals and life’s direction. The actions facilitated by those ideals will define who you are.

Managing the Daily Grind
Everyone on earth has the same amount of time–exactly 24 hours each day to accomplish their goals and tasks. However, we can all stipulate that some folks just seem to accomplish a lot more with that 24-hour allotment than others. It’s a fact; they do. And the reason is they have a game plan.

After you’ve established your Personal Guiding Principles Statement and defined your core ideals, you have a great understanding of who you are and what defines you. You can now plan your days and weeks with purpose. Your planning will now illuminate your personal standards of excellence and draw you towards activities representative of your personal goals.

How often have you found yourself sitting at your computer, your eyes glazed-over, with your fingers methodically clicking your mouse as you surf through the countless images and links on your favorite social networking site? I’ve been there! I recall times that I easily wasted a full day checking out all the cool things my “friends” posted. Connecting with friends and associates via the internet has its place, but we all know that an inordinate amount of time can be lost in the process–time we will never get back!

So, how do we avoid the pitfalls of time wasting? The answer is found in personal discipline and planning. You manage the discipline part and then follow this simple planning sequence for immediate success.

You will need a daily journal recording device or notebook. Years ago, I used a small flip-notebook that easily fit inside my shirt or inside suit breast pocket. Now I use my iPhone. Whatever device you choose, you need to have it with you always and make sure it can easily be written in. Since I always have my phone wherever I go, I prefer to use it. If you like, a rectangular pocket calendar will work just fine.

Now for the “meat and potatoes” of this game plan. At the beginning and end of your day, you must allocate five minutes of quiet time for only yourself. Here is what you will do with this short, but invaluable time:

  • list on your chosen device the tasks that must be completed on this day–record them
  • review yesterday’s list of tasks and bring forward any that still need to be completed
  • rate each task according to importance and expediency
  • list activities that either you are expected to participate in or you desire to participate in
  • establish the time parameters for activities–IE. Internet surfing: 15 minutes, grocery shopping: 60 minutes, staff meeting: 30 minutes
  • record any prudent reminders–IE. Jimmy’s birthday, the visiting VIP’s name is Colonel Zogg
  • Review all your tasks and activities for the day and make a mental note how each contributes to your P-GPS and/or your core ideals
  • Review your task and activity list often throughout the day. Follow it explicitly! When an activity or task is complete, cross it out.
  • At the end of the day, take a moment to record your successes and make notes for the next day’s activities.

As you perform this exercise at the beginning and end of each day, you will soon notice your mind beginning to bend toward personal order and constructive time management. You will draw positive parallels with your tasks and activities in relation with your core ideals and guiding principles. You will gain self-discipline and will no longer find yourself being overtaken by mind-numbing activities that you admit are a complete waste of your valuable time, unless it is specifically planned.

As you incorporate this simple plan, I promise that you will be more productive. Productivity brings happiness. Taking back your life brings happiness!