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Goldstein, Debra H.

Debra H. Goldstein 
hates to be pigeon-holed. Judge, author, 
litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, civic volunteer, University of Michigan grad, and transplanted Yankee are all words used to describe her. Her writings are equally diverse.  Her debut novel, Maze in Blue, a murder mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s received a 2012 Independent Book Publisher (IPPY) Award.  Even though Maze in Blue is a murder mystery, it is a safe bet that when it comes to her writing, “It’s Not Always a Mystery.”  For more info please click: 

A Political Cornucopia

Debra H. Goldstein

(Featured, November 2013)

It was nearing Thanksgiving 1969. America had put a man on the moon in July, Kennedy had been dead six years, Nixon was president, and for most of us, it was the Age of Aquarius. For me, after graduating Alabama and spending months banging on doors in New York, I'd come back home and was covering the political beat for my dad's paper, the Wahoo Times.

At 83, the incumbent mayor had decided not to run again. The two main contenders for his job were Sheriff Tom Eden and City Councilman Bob Foster. Ms. Sadie Mae Jones was also running, but as she had been on every election ballot for the past twenty years, the only ink the paper devoted to her was mentioning her name. 

Eden and Foster were different. They hated each other and their followers respectively had names like McCoy and Hatfield. Over the years, each had won his job the old fashioned way – by kissing babies, eating barbecue, and buying votes. 

Buying votes in Wahoo County is a simple process. Someone the candidate trusts parks a car about twenty yards from the voting station and pops his trunk. The trunk has a bag filled with singles, fives, tens, twenties, and a stack or two of rubber-banded hundreds in it. People come up to the car and negotiate how much it will take for them to vote for the candidate. Once a deal is struck, there’s a handshake and a young guy, like me, walks the voter into the polling place. The agreed amount is handed over once the ballot is marked.

I used to wonder why voters didn’t shop between the open trunks, but I’ve learned that once a going rate is established, there isn’t much wiggle room. Besides, it wouldn’t be considered honorable. Honor is a big thing in Wahoo.

Honor is why Sheriff Eden called a press conference in early October. He stood on the steps of Wahoo’s City Hall with his gun and holster prominently displayed against the expanse of his belly. With the microphone echoing his words, he talked to the gathered crowd. “This mayoral election is important to you, the people of Wahoo. You need to elect the man who can get the job done the way you want.” Pausing to let the applause die down, his eye was caught by Ms. Sadie, who was standing at the edge of the crowd twirling the parasol she used to protect her pale skin from the sun. He corrected himself to ‘’person” before continuing. “That’s why I’m announcing today that I will not tolerate anyone buying votes on my behalf. I’m running on my record.” His hand glided over the top of his gun. “I challenge my opponent to do the same.” 

Applauding, I did what most of the crowd did. I looked over to see if Bob Foster was going to respond. Sure enough, he already was hoisting himself up the stairs. His immaculate white linen suit highlighted his equally white beard and bushy eyebrows. He paused on the steps only when he stood a head above the six-foot Sheriff. Slowly, he leaned forward toward the microphone. “Unlike some, I’ve never had to buy a vote in my life. So, not only will I not have anyone buying votes for me, I’ll offer $1,000 if anyone catches me tampering with your right to vote. Of course,” he said, tipping his fedora to the crowd, “I’d be much obliged if you did cast your vote for me.” His supporters roared.

Sheriff Eden, not to be outdone, thrust his hand out as he stepped up even with Councilman Foster. He bent back down to the microphone, clasping Foster’s hand as the two locked eyes, and said, “Same for me.” Then, letting go of Foster’s hand, he turned back to where Ms. Sadie stood and, palm upward, extended his hand toward her. “Sadie, will you join us in this pledge?”

Ms. Sadie didn’t miss a beat. Moving carefully, making sure not to hit anyone with her open parasol, she joined the two on the steps. “I don’t need a pledge to do what’s right, but I’m glad you boys have seen the error of your ways.” She ignored the matching glares Eden and Foster gave her. “This is Thanksgiving season and win or lose, we should, like our forefathers, give thanks for our bounty. I think the three of us should host a community Thanksgiving luncheon on election day to thank God for the favor bestowed upon all of us.”

She fluttered her hand toward the crowd. Sheriff Eden tried to argue that Thanksgiving wasn’t for weeks and we shouldn’t tamper with its official date, but Ms. Sadie had them over a barrel. By the time she explained that it wasn’t until 1863 that President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving be held on the final Thursday of November, and that federal legislation didn’t mandate the fourth Thursday celebration until 1941, everyone’s eyes were glazed over. No one had the strength to argue with her when she said Wahoo needed its own day of thanks plus the traditional one.

The next morning, the Wahoo Times ran a picture of the three mayoral candidates hanging a wicker horn of plenty, overflowing with fruit and ears of grain, by the stage in the Baptist Church’s social hall. Its caption read, “A New day of Celebration - Turkey Eating Substituted for Buying Votes.” My editor father had whittled my story about the agreement to not buy votes, the $1000 pledge, the discussion about what to serve, and the candidates joining together to hang the cornucopia as a sign of the abundance of good in this election to a picture and a caption. 

If Dad had run my story, people would have known how the three agreed the luncheon needed to be in the church hall so people could eat and vote in one stop. Sheriff Eden had felt if it was at the church, the ladies auxiliary could be coaxed into making pumpkin pies. Councilman Foster had argued it would be cheaper, especially if the community helped out, if the three of them embraced the first Thanksgiving’s idea of fowl by serving chicken, but Sheriff Eden reminded him “Everyone looks at it as being turkey day, turkey.” 

Ms. Sadie had pooh-poohed their main course ideas, suggesting they embrace the historic tradition of lobster and vegetables. When the men challenged “lobster,” she started into another history lesson about how seafood rather than turkey was what the first celebrants had served, but Sheriff Eden interrupted her. 

“Sadie, I’m allergic to shellfish,” Sheriff Eden said. “Besides, lobster would drive the cost of the election sky high.”

“How? You can each use the money you would have used to buy votes.”

“Not exactly,” Sheriff Eden said. He looked over at Bob Foster, who was shaking his head slightly from side to side.

“That money’s pretty much tied up,” Councilman Foster explained. Ms. Sadie didn't question it further. Instead, she suggested they compromise by each bringing something different for the main dish. 

Election day, the church hall was divided almost down the middle. One side had voting booths while the other had round tables set for lunch. Against the far wall, long tables were already piled with big bowls of salad, squash and sweet potato casseroles, cranberry sauce, individually-plated slices of pumpkin pie, and sweet tea, but there still was room to squeeze in the bounty from the courtyard.

In the courtyard, three spits were slow cooking the plumpest turkeys I’d ever seen, under the watchful eye of Sheriff Eden. Word was that a few of the county’s finest had donated the birds. I couldn't see into the closed grills Councilman Foster and some of the other council members were tending except when they’d open them for a moment to baste their chickens with barbecue sauce. Ms. Sadie was making trips back and forth from her car using a kitchen tray to bring in her little casserole dishes. A number of times, she was helped by some of the voters, who would carry a tray for her, wave “Hey” as they went in to drop off the tray and vote, and then come back outside to salivate at the smell the grills and spits were giving off.

With kids playing on the jungle gym and swings, folks sipping tea and talking, and everyone eager to help bring in the main dishes, the churchyard, just before lunch, reminded me more of a trip to the circus than election day. But election day it was, and when the food was finally in and set up and most of us had filled our plates, Sheriff Eden motioned Councilman Foster and Ms. Sadie to join him on the social hall’s stage. Figuring this might be my story or that at least I could get a picture of the three standing under the ostentatious horn of plenty, I put my plate of turkey on the ledge behind the piano, where I could retrieve it later, and moved forward with my camera and notebook in hand.

“I want to thank you all for voting and for joining us in this Thanksgiving celebration today,” Sheriff Eden began, holding up his plate so that everyone could see he had filled it with turkey, chicken, and Ms. Sadie’s casserole. “Ms. Sadie, I was the first to think this was a ridiculous idea, but it truly has brought Wahoo together in a time of thankful celebration.” He recited a short prayer of thanks. When he finished, Ms. Sadie smiled. She took the plate and held it steady so I could get a picture of the three of them under the cornucopia each holding a fork over the plate, but she didn't move to take the microphone like Bob Foster did.

I don’t know what really happened right after that. Sheriff Eden had just swallowed a piece of turkey followed by a generous forkful of Ms. Sadie’s casserole and Councilman Foster was saying something about it being a fair and positive election when someone yelled out, “Fair? While you guys were cooking, she was buying votes left and right every time a tray of casseroles was carried in.” 

Someone jumped the guy who was yelling because even if he was telling the truth, it wasn't  an honorable thing to share with this crowd. A table went over and the fight was in full force when Sheriff Eden grabbed his holster and pulled out his gun. I thought he was going to shoot into the crowd but he began flaying it around as his free hand went to his throat and he started gasping for air. He must not have had the safety on because when he hit the floor, the gun went off. I heard a whoosh and then a clank as Commissioner Foster dropped the microphone when the overflowing wicker cornucopia dropped like lead onto his head. 

Dad ran my eyewitness story of how an abundance of lobster instead of turkey casserole combined with a Thanksgiving decorated cornucopia killed two men and made Ms. Sadie Mayor of Wahoo. The wire services picked it up and wouldn't you know it, my first published story got nominated for a Pulitzer. 

This is Where I Buried My Wives

Debra H Goldstein 

“This is where I buried my wives,” Biff said. He stared beyond the two marked graves down the hill at the orchard and lush pasture that divided the land between a few worn chicken houses and the newly fenced horse ring that abutted the main house.

“Present company excepted, I hope.”

“I certainly hope so.” He drew Julie closer to him with the arm that wasn’t carrying their picnic basket. “To me, this is the prettiest spot on the farm. I know it may seem morbid, but I come up here when I need to think or bounce an idea off someone. There aren’t a lot of people in these parts and sometimes I just need to talk things out.”

Julie raised her head and kissed his rough cheek. “You won’t have to talk to the dead anymore. You’ve got me now.”

She took the picnic basket from his hand and bent down to smooth out their blanket, positioning it so their backs would be to the graves. She pulled some flowers from the basket and arranged them on the side of the blanket. As Julie set out napkins and utensils, she paused and looked up at the sky. “It feels like there should be a big tree shading this hill.”

“There used to be a giant elm back there. Some disease got it right around the time Margie died.” Biff plopped onto the blanket. He accommodated his six-foot frame by extending his booted legs onto the grass. Julie snuggled against him.

“Margie brought me up here shortly after we met.” Biff hesitated. “It was her favorite place in the world, so it seemed only right to bury her on the hill. Besides, if it hadn’t been for her leaving me all the land you can see between here and the main house,” he said, pointing, “I’d still be living by those egg houses.”

Julie’s eyes followed his finger to the small parcel on which the chicken houses sat. It was definitely a tiny space compared with the rest of the farmland. She put her hand on his arm. “Was that the land your family owned?”

“No, we squatted on that small patch and were tenant farmers to Margie’s grand-parents on the rest of it.” He watched Julie’s face. “Like I told you, Margie was married and lost her husband and daughter well before I came to work for her. She may have been getting on in years, but somehow we clicked. I like to think I made those last few years of her life happy.”

“You’re making my life pretty happy.” Julie handed him a sandwich. “Turkey and parsnip.” He made a face, but took the sandwich and bit into it.

“I want you to know everything,” Biff said. “You’re going to hear people say some mean things like Margie was old enough to be my mother and …”

Julie hushed him by pressing her hand against his lips. “I won’t listen to them as long as you don’t pay attention if someone talks about me being eighteen years younger than you.”

“Heck, I’m proud to have a trophy wife.” Biff grinned and hugged her. “Just so you know, I never asked for this farm. I was as shocked as anyone when I found out Margie left it to me. “He glanced behind him. “I buried her up here because she loved this place.”

“It probably also reminds you of how far you’ve come.” Julie noticed that the smile lingered on Biff’s lips, but was no longer in his eyes. She quickly added, “Not to mention how lonely having this big a farm must have been without someone to share it with. I’m so glad you decided to take another chance on FarmDatesR4U.”

“Me, too.” He raised his shoulders and turned his head toward the second grave marker. “I almost didn’t. After Annie and I got together, I didn’t think I could ever be happier. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I was to find a city slicker willing to give up the big city for life on my farm. When our time together turned out to be so short, I was scared to try again.” He finished his sandwich and sidled closer to Julie.

“You don’t ever have to worry,” she said. “I may only have spent a few summers on my grandparents’ farm, but the experience ruined me from ever being a pure city dweller. I can remember riding my granddad’s tractor as he did the planting, feeding slop to the pigs, rocking on the porch at night with granny, and best of all climbing a tree like the elm you told me was here. I’d sit in the crook of that tree, looking out as far as I could see, unaware of how perfect my world was.” She kissed him again. “Thank you for giving me my farm life back.”

Biff leaned back on his hands. “What happened to your grandparents’ farm? Did they sell it?”

Julie turned to rummage in the picnic basket. She pulled out a tin with dessert in it. “Apple pie?” She cut Biff a large slice.

“You didn’t answer me,” he said, gobbling down the pie.

“Oh, there isn’t much to tell. Like her mother before her, my mom had me when she was sixteen. Dad enlisted to pay their bills. Until she died when I was seven, we lived wherever the Army assigned him. After her death, Dad sent me to spend a few summers with my grandparents, but once he remarried, I went to boarding schools and camps. My grandfather died and somewhere along the way, my grandmother gave away the farm.”

Julie brushed a crumb off Biff’s shirt. “Like I’ve told you, try as I might, I wasn’t meant for the bar scene, concrete sidewalks, and cars and people everywhere. A friend told me about I debated it for a few months, but as a twenty-sixth birthday present to myself I signed up for a two-week trial subscription. Your profile popped up on the thirteenth day.” She waved her hand all around her. “And, as they say, the rest is history.”

Biff tried to kiss her again, but she blocked his efforts by putting both hands on his chest. He sat back. “Biff, one thing we never talked about. Our relationship and marriage happened so quickly. I mean, it was only a matter of months between our first messages, your proposal and my moving out here for good.” She paused before the words rushed out. “Your profile was online for a lot longer time than mine. Were there any other girls you dated?”

“A few.”

She swallowed. “Were you serious with any of them? Did you bring any of them to this hill?”

He looked away from her toward a pile of rocks near the bottom of the hill. “You don’t really want to go there.”

“I do. I want to know.” She moved away from him.

Biff ran his hand through his hair. “That’s what Annie said. Why can’t we simply be happy as we are?”

Julie pulled her knees close to her and put her arms around them. She tried to wait him out and finally said, “Biff, I need to know.”

Biff again glanced at the pile of rocks and back at Julie. “A few came to the farm, but they weren’t like Annie or you. Oh, they said the right things about being willing to try farm life. And, at first, they admired the wide-open spaces, the crops and animals, and the stream running through our property, but then they started complaining. They refused to help with the chores and couldn’t appreciate the songs of the coyotes. One didn’t like the smell of the egg houses, another refused to throw slop in the pig trough, and a third said planting in the sun wasn’t good for her delicate skin. I realized pretty quickly that none of them would ever be able to earn a place on the top of this hill.”

“So, they had to stay at the bottom?”

“That’s right. I thought you were going to be different.”
“Oh, I am,” Julie said. “I’m not going to end up at the bottom of the hill.”

“No, you’re not.” Biff stood and took a step toward her, but stumbled. He sat back down on the blanket and held his head. Julie inched a little further away from him as he attempted to stand again. He tried to focus his gaze on her. “Julie, what’s going on?”

“Nothing a farm boy can’t understand. You should have looked at the parsnip a little more closely. We city slickers sometimes confuse parsnip and hemlock. Sorry.”

He reached for her, but missed. “You might want to lie still,” Julie said, as he grabbed his stomach and doubled up from a wave of pain. Turning away from him, Julie took the cut flowers she had left on the blanket and walked up the hill toward the two graves. She placed all but one on Annie’s grave before moving on to Margie’s spot at the top of the hill.

Carefully, Julie knelt and put the remaining single white rose in front of the simple white marker. She ignored the sounds behind her, but spoke loudly enough that her words carried downhill. “I never stopped loving this farm or you, Granny. When Dad took me away, I told you I’d come home one day. I’m sorry I was too late, but I’m making up for it now. You don’t have to worry, I’ve made sure the farm is back in the family.”

Top Ten ...

for a 
Top Ten List
by Debra H. Goldstein

Because I tend to be shy, sharing things with readers through a top ten list was harder than writing the featured story.  So, I enlisted my friends’ ideas through a Facebook posting. Here's what they suggested:

1. Give them cooking tips. Make reservations.

2. What about top uses for a kitchen? I had our kitchen remodeled, and installed every type of pull out, space saver or modern device I could find.  After the contractors left, I neglected to mention to my husband, for about four weeks, that the kitchen was operational. When I finally admitted the workmen were done, Joel asked, “If you weren’t going to use the kitchen, why did we spend so much money remodeling it?”  My answer: “To make a nice path from the garage to the den.”

3.   How to host a party. In the dorm you had all sorts of snacks, and I think coffee–even when we had no money? True, I always had things for us to nosh on, but I think it is the Kahlua she is remembering. It went well with everything.

4. The finer points of setting a table. Silver looks lovely with the heavy white (other colors available but white is preferred) plastic plates. It also makes for easier clean-up as you can pass a bowl in one direction for the silverware and a garbage bag in the other for the plates.

5. You eat out so much, list your top ten foods to order. Anything that doesn’t bite me. As long as I don’t have to make it, I’ll try just about anything–maybe there is a television show in my future.

6. Most embarrassing moments in a restaurant? On our first day in China, our group of four went to a restaurant recommended for Peking duck. No one spoke English, so pointing at pictures we ordered what we thought were fish appetizers and two orders of Peking duck.  The appetizers were full meals and the ducks were brought out on two carving tables each manned by a chef. Our fish appetizers turned out to be full meals. Diners around us snickered as we worked through the dinner for eight–but at least the entire bill was only $74.52.

7, Tell them about you and cake. I'm not a big cake fan, but every media piece for a fundraiser I did at my former high school mentioned that “ there will be cake.” It was even handwritten on posters. When I walked into the event, there was the most gorgeous two-tiered cake replica of my book cover.  The town’s top wedding cake baker donated it: chocolate and vanilla – divine.

8.  Things About Joel – he is a great guy! He is kind, generous, a good father, a loyal husband, but he also is out-to-lunch periodically, over-enamored of exercise, messy, and has blood that runs Crimson.

9. Funny incidents observed as a judge. As I finished a hearing shortly after Maze in Blue came out, I asked “Is there anything else?” The attorney replied, “No,” but his client said, “Yes.”  I looked from the client to the shrugging attorney and back to the client. “I just want to tell you, yourhonor, no matter how you rule, I’ll still buy your book.” Bet he didn’t.

10. Ways you appreciate fans, family, and friends. With sincere gratitude.

Judge (ret.) Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Player's Murder Mystery (Five Star-February 2016), 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, and numerous short stories. She is a Guppy Member-at-Large, Vice-President of the Alabama Writers Conclave, and serves on several civic boards in Birmingham, Alabama. Debra is married to Joel Goldstein and has four children.