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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)

TITLE: Before Breakfast
By Loren T. Lowery


My thoughts followed the sound of the first volley of shots, carrying them high over the hills surrounding the cemetery. In this momentary silence, waiting the next volley I am transported back a year, almost to the day.

Jason, my mother’s brother, three years my senior, is being the father I never had. It is early morning and we’re walking the rails, going fishing to our secret cove on Silver Lake.

Our outlines are but dark silhouettes in the rising orange mist of the sun. The sound of gravel crunches beneath our feet; and, as the morning warms, the earthy smell of oil from the timbers tethering the rails, tickles the air.

To our left a flock of geese honk and slip effortlessly into the lake. To our right, swallows dart and swoosh, turning invisible corners, following unseen paths.

“Think we’ll catch him this time?” I ask, thinking of Whiskers, the legendry ten-pound catfish of Silver Lake.

“I guess it’s sorta like Lewis Carroll once said.”

“You’re weird, but what?”

“‘Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’” His laugh in the morning light is infectious.

He is right of course; no one has been able to catch Whiskers for over ten years. It is an impossible thing to believe. But what is not impossible was the time we were about to spend together at our secret cove.

Here, we would dangle our lines in the still waters and be teased by the bobbing corks. Here we would talk about baiting hooks with grubs; and, how girls are incredibly different from guys.

Here, on the quiet banks, we’d discuss the latest cars from Detroit, which baseball team would make the play offs and watch smoke from the chimneys of the nearby paper mill.

The second volley of shots resounded, but it failed to pull my thoughts from the railroad tracks on that early June morning.

“Are you afraid?” I finally ask.


“You know, going into service. You might die.” I dare not look at him to see how he’d taken my question. Instead, there is a brief pause and I push him. “How come you signed up? Mom said you could have got a deferment or something.”

“What goes on in a man’s head, not always easy to understand, Jimmy.” He points to the right, to the darting swallows above the berm. “See those birds over there? See how they’re changing direction ever which way. Seems to be no rhyme or reason to it but to them; chasing things no one else is able to see.”


“So, that’s sorta like me. Going after something a lot of people can’t see. Some people chase after things everybody can see and feel in their hands, but for me, it’s different.”

“But you might be killed – you don’t know.”

This time there is no pause. “You know what I like about walking the rails?” He doesn’t wait for a response. “It’s the way they seem to come to a point just ahead of you, but they don’t and if you just keep walking you find they keep opening up.

“That’s the way life is, you don’t know how it’s going to end, but you just keep walking. I don’t want to die, but running from it doesn’t change it, maybe even makes it worse, because when you look back, the rails are always closed.

“There’s a war going on, Jimmy, and a lot of folk are not only running from it, but don’t even see why it’s being fought. I don’t want to live or die that way.”

At sixteen, my mind is not able to wrap itself around such esoteric concepts - the intangible qualities he sees so clearly. Nobility, integrity, freedom, even death itself are too distant, too irrelevant. These are weights I’ve never had to test my strength against.

“I’ll write,” I said not knowing what else to say.

“When you do, tell me about catching Whiskers, memories to keep us close and a reason to keep me walking to hurry home.”

The third and final volley of shots fire, pulling me out of my reverie. I look up, a uniformed officer is handing my grandmother a triangular flag.

At his open grave, I drop a photograph. It is of me, smiling broadly with Whiskers held high in my right hand. It is taken on the tracks. On my chest, a sign: BEFORE BREAKFAST.

“Keep walking,” I whisper. “I’m up to only three impossible things.”

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This article has been read 1297 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Betsy Markman04/24/08
Simply wonderful.
Lynda Schultz 04/24/08
Beautiful, and that last line is superb.
Beth LaBuff 04/24/08
Wow! Beautiful story, expertly woven, and eloquently told. I really like this, "Nobility, integrity, freedom, even death itself are too distant, too irrelevant. These are weights I’ve never had to test my strength against." All the different part of this story are so good, "the railroad tracks", the line from Lewis Carroll, Whiskers, then your ending that ties it all together. Excellent work. I love it.
Laury Hubrich 04/26/08
Wow! I love this entry. Very touching and I loved the ending.
Joshua Janoski04/27/08
Wow. My jaw has dropped right now in awe of this story. I can't even describe all of the things I like about it, because it would take me too long. Everything about it shines, the characters, the descriptions, the dialogue, the superb word usage, the beginning, the ending...Should I keep going? :)

This one is being added to my favorites list. I hope that it places high, because it deserves top honors in my opinion.
Peter Stone04/28/08
What an amazing story, especially the second last paragraph. I loved the description of the railroad being like our life.
Jan Ackerson 04/28/08

Since most of the story is the flashback, would you consider putting the "present" bits in italics, and the flashback in regular type? Another thing that might separate them would be to change the tenses: put the "now" stuff in present tense, but the flashback in past tense. That's actually the way I thought you were going in the first paragraph, which starts in past tense then switches to present.

Purely my opinion; this piece is very strong and masterfully written, just the way it is.
Joy Faire Stewart04/28/08
Very strong entry! Love everything about it and hope it places. Excellent!
Sheri Gordon04/28/08
Wow. Beautiful writing. Love the format. Excellent job with the topic.
Sharlyn Guthrie04/28/08
Wow! Excellent entry! Your writing is superb.
Catrina Bradley 04/28/08
Emotion evoking writing. Your writing set not only the scene, but the mood of your piece.

I think you could weave the details of the 2nd paragraph (the beginning of the f.b.) into the third para, to "show not tell", eg changing "..in the rising orange mist of the sun." to "..in the orange mist of the rising sun." shows early morning. Just a thought.

Love the dialog between uncle and nephew, and the photo and what it represented. Excellent.
Chely Roach04/28/08
My favorite of the week. Superb. Mind boggling superb.
Willena Flewelling 04/29/08
Wow! A touching and beautiful story... well written.
Debbie Wistrom04/29/08
You set the mood so well and you continue to set the mark of excellence in Masters. Always enjoy your entries and something in this one stirs my soul.
Myrna Noyes04/29/08
Oh, my! Oh, my! From beginning to end--SUPERB!! I am in awe of your "wordsmithing" gift, my friend! Through your exquisite descriptions, I was there on the tracks with you, deeply moved by the whole story! The dialogue was very well-done, too, and the Carroll quote is a favorite of mine! It is so good to be reading your work again! Oh, my! Oh, my! :)
Dee Yoder 04/30/08
Wow, beautiful and lovely. Your descriptions and characterizations are perfect. Love this story.
Carolyn Cyphers04/30/08
I loved this story-your descriptions drew me right in.I particualrly loved the following paragraph:"To our left a flock of geese honk and slip effortlessly into the lake. To our right, swallows dart and swoosh, turning invisible corners, following unseen paths." You create such an amazing mood, and devlopment of character through the dialog. Wonderful piece!
Shirley McClay 04/30/08
Awesome story!! Amazing.

Love these lines...

“That’s the way life is, you don’t know how it’s going to end, but you just keep walking. I don’t want to die, but running from it doesn’t change it, maybe even makes it worse, because when you look back, the rails are always closed.


Nobility, integrity, freedom, even death itself are too distant, too irrelevant. These are weights I’ve never had to test my strength against.
Sara Harricharan 04/30/08
oh WOW! This is amazing! So much depth here and emotion, I loved the lines with six impossible things and how you ended with it being down to three impossible things. There's so much in this piece, I've got read it again. Great, wonderful writing! ^_^
Patty Wysong04/30/08
Sometimes 'beautiful' is so inadequate--this is one of those times. Simply wonderful. I loved the ending--it brought tears.
Karen Wilber04/30/08
Others have already noted the great lines in this piece. Ditto. You have a gift for bringing all the senses into a story-fully immersing the reader. Wow.
Peter Stone05/01/08
Congrats on placing. I had an inkling you would. This was my favorite of this topic's entries.
Sara Harricharan 05/01/08
Congratulations, Loren! ^_^
jodie banner05/01/08
Congratulations! This is so well-written a beautful tribute if true, a beautiful story if not.
LauraLee Shaw05/01/08
Congratulations! This was a brilliant piece.
Beth LaBuff 05/01/08
Congrats on your EC!
Dee Yoder 05/01/08
Woo-hoo! Congratulations, Loren!
Sheri Gordon05/01/08
Congratulations on your EC, Loren. I'm so glad to see this piece place.
Ann Grover05/01/08
Excellent... I was there... Each word well-placed. Congratulations on a deserved win.
Joshua Janoski05/01/08
SO very happy to see this one place in the top 5. It truly is one of my favorites.
Myrna Noyes05/01/08
I knew it! I knew it! :) When I read this piece I was certain it would garner you yet another EC! Am I prophetic or what?!! :D WAY TO WRITE, LOREN!!!!!!!!!!!
Julia May05/01/08
This is excellent! Your description are so vivid I felt like I was there. Awesome job and well deserved win. Love in Christ,
Laurie Walker05/01/08
There are times words cannot possibly impart all the emotions one feels. This is one of those times. I have been taken on a journey and brought home again, one that has left me nostalgic, frightened, aching, and at last, hopeful. You have blessed me today, my friend. You always bless me when you write.
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/01/08
Congratulations on EC placing for an amazing story. This one should be published. It's that good.
Sally Hanan05/01/08
I agree with Verna (once you fix the italics). It was really, really good writing.
Tessy Fuller05/01/08
This captured how life should be lived, with each word it breathed different emotions, challenging you to lose yourself in it. The "Before Breakfast" ending will stick in my head as I am reminded of how important it is to really "live" each day.
Helen Dowd05/07/08
A very unique way of story-telling....present; past; present, etc. I would agree with one person's comment about switching the italics with the plain text, in that the italicized passages were longer, and this type of print is harder to read...But the concept was great--lending to the difference in timing...And I liked the switch of present to past tense in the story to emphasize the time element...Very well done. ...Helen