As anyone who has been following this series knows – there are certainly a lot of charming stops on the fabulous old Mother Road. Despite its faded space on the map, the former Main Street of America still boasts ample antique small-town stops with faded brick buildings and cozy, pretty streets. Right alongside the bigger city dazzles like Chicago, Armarillo, and St. Louis. There are museums, restaurants, tourist attractions, and bright neon lights. Though it’s a blast from the past in many respects, the eastern half of Route 66 still takes you through a mostly civilized world – with nicely paved roads, traffic lights, and plenty of places to stop for gas and a bite to eat.

But somewhere in Oklahoma, things begin to change. Buildings and towns grow more sparse, and the towns you do encounter have a different vibe. The architecture gets more rugged. Tumbleweeds blow past some of the empty roads. Vast, unending fields and plains replace the big buildings and old souvenir shops. Pump stations, whether just for photos or to actually fill your car with gas, become harder and harder to come by. As do restaurants and touristy stops.

By the time you reach Arizona, Route 66 has officially gone from a road through modern civilization to a desolate, abandoned backroad in a forgotten part of America. The cracked, pot-holed asphalt boils under the hot, desert sun. Red rock formations and dry, thirsty mountains stretch on underneath a big blue sky with the occasional white clouds. Sun-burned cacti and bits of petrified wood dot the horizon. Sprawling National Parks and old Pueblo monuments replace cozy diners and old-fashioned cafes. In short, the western half of Route 66 is quite a different world.

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And it’s in this most isolated part of the Mother Road that you really begin to encounter some interesting people and places. Like Ray’s in Arizona – a small roadside stop where the owner insists on feeding you chili dogs and showing you his astounding Hot Wheels collection (seriously… it’s astounding, and I had to at least find a way to mention it during this series).

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Not far from there you will find the town of Oatman. An old mining town just off the winding, quite untamed (and somewhat treacherous) part of the old Route 66. The really old route 66 – the one from John Steinbeck’s “Okie” world of desperation instead of the movie “Cars.” Once you work your way around the dicey curves and narrow passes, you come around the mountain and there it is – the main street of Oatman. Which might not strike people as a particularly interesting town, until they see that the place is mostly run by…. (*checks notes*)… Burros.

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WWI Aviator Series: The Boy Wonder

Anybody here like cake? I love cake. My God. I used to be one of those people who bought single cakes from the bakery just because. But do I love cake enough to never go flying without it? Not really. You know who did love cake that much? Albert Ball – a quirky, wild, British WWI Air Ace who never went up to fly and fight without a piece of cake in his pocket.

Destined to become one of England’s top-scoring aces in the First World War, Albert Ball was born in Nottingham in 1896. He came from pretty decent stock. His father worked his way up in the world from humble plumber to Lord Mayor of Nottingham, and eventually even seeing knighthood. As for the boy Albert, he grew into a deeply religious young man, who enjoyed tinkering with mechanical trinkets around the house, learning his way around rifles, and eventually becoming a crack shot with his better-than-perfect vision. While he performed on an average scale in school, Ball excelled at all things mechanical, also managing to pick up quite a talent for the violin.

All-said, Albert Ball was a pretty decent chap who looked to have a bright future in engineering ahead of him – until August of 1914. The outbreak of war saw him, and hundreds of thousands of others, putting his career aspirations on hold and joining the service. For Ball, it was the Sherwood Foresters. All that rifle work as a youth paid off, and he quickly worked his way up to second lieutenant.

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A Walk Down Candy Cane Memory Lane

Let’s face it. You can’t get through the Christmas season without at least a mention of candy canes. Right around mid-November, stores all over the country stock their shelves with delightful cane-shaped goodies. And it doesn’t stop in the candy aisle. There are candy cane ornaments, candy cane clothes, candy cane garlands, candy cane window lights, and candy cane walkway lights. Especially in my old stomping grounds of So-Cal, people decorated the trunks of Palm Trees in a red and white peppermint twist of lights. Then there are the candy cane cookies, the candy cane Hershey kisses, the candy cane truffles, and even the candy cane cocktails (yummy, bottoms up).

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And of course…. Candy Cane Peeps…

 

Although the red and white peppermint canes are the undisputed king of Christmas candies, both in looks and taste, other companies have jumped in on the action. You can find candy canes flavored and colored like Sweet Tarts, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Jelly Belly, and Oreo cookies. There are rainbow-colored canes, Christmas-colored canes, and pastel-colored canes. Some truly bizarre flavors are creeping into the candy cane scene too. Flavors like bacon, Macaroni and Cheese, and even Kale. Yes… kale. I don’t know what would ruin my Christmas more than a kale cane, but here we are.

So, where did all the madness start? How did cane-shaped candies with a burst of peppermint come to take over the Christmas season? As I worked my way through this year’s first delicious candy cane, I decided to do a little digging. And I have to say, the research left me feeling a bit disappointed. Because the answer to where the candy cane came from is this – no one… really… knows.

What a forehead slap of a response, huh? I suppose I could just stop the article here and let you move on with your day (and your Christmas shopping). But that wouldn’t be very sporty now would it? Besides, there are some fun legends that have sprung up around the advent of the candy cane, and they are worth taking a look at.

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M.B. Henry’s Top 10 Reads for 2021!

Some random, barely-heard-of writer (Stephen King someone or other) once said – “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” It’s a very true quote, because reading the countless amazing books out there has had a profound impact on my own writing. In its way, reading has taught me more about writing than any course, conference, or writers group (but all of those are also more than worth a writer’s time). So you could say a lot of my reading is for professional reasons.

But I’ll be honest. The truth is I’m an utter and total bookworm. Full-on need a twelve-step-program addict. And it started long before I picked up a pen to write my own. I’ve been devouring books since I was a kid. They give me an escape from this troubled world, they provide insight into other worlds, and they are vehicles to launch my yawning and stretching imagination to new heights. When I was in school, I would wonder into the library, just to have the librarian say, “ah, you again. I have some stuff here you might enjoy.” At the bookstore, I could never leave empty-handed. Sometimes I even tricked my parents into buying me books that probably should have waited a year or two.

Maybe they saw through my devious little ways and maybe they didn’t. But either way, books feed me like little else can. It’s a passion that has turned into a livelihood, with my debut novel coming out in the spring (click here for more on that).

And it’s a passion I’ve decided I’m long overdue to share. Most notably during the pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of great blog posts about what everyone’s reading. And trust me – I love talking books. Even at pre-pandemic parties when I was most likely to hide in a corner somewhere, books got me talking like you wouldn’t believe. Especially history books.

But in my line a work, it bodes well to read everything. Anything I can get my hands on. I rampage my way through dozens of books a year. While I can’t remember all of them (who could?), there are always a handful that leave a profound mark on me. Books that teach me a significant truth, that pull at my heart strings, that stick with me through thick and thin. And every year, I make a top ten list of reads that I post on my social media accounts (handle @mbhenry1985, come say hello!) The thought hit me the other day, while I was compiling this list, that perhaps you guys might want to see it too! And this being a blog instead of something pithy like Instagram, I have a lot more room to really share my thoughts.

So, without any further ado, here are my top ten for 2021, in no particular order. Books that kept me inspired during a year of big changes all around me.

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It’s that time of year again! If you’ve followed this blog awhile, you’re probably familiar with my fascination with the other worldly, especially when it comes to ghosts. It’s a theme I’ve explored often with some of Gettysburg’s most famous haunts (view them by clicking here, here, and here). And while the Civil War is a great place to go looking for ghosts, this year, I’m taking you down a different road (highway puns).

Of all our stops on Route 66, the Lincoln home was one of our favorites. It is wonderfully preserved, furnished just like it was then, right down to perfect re-creations of bed spreads and wallpapers. The doorway to the Lincoln home is a true doorway through time, as well as an entrance into the personal lives of two of America’s most famous figures.

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And while there’s no better candidate for ghost stories than tragic Abraham Lincoln, he isn’t the one who haunts this place. At least not according to some former employees of the charming historical residence in Springfield, Illinois. People who tell of phantom taps on the shoulders while cleaning certain rooms. A chair that creaks and rocks despite no one sitting in it. And misty apparitions, not of a forlorn President, but of a stern and troubled Mary Todd.

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WWI Aviator Series: The Balloon Buster

Have you ever met someone from history that grabbed you by the shoulders and completely stole your attention? With one look at a faded photograph, you just knew you were in for a treat? That’s what happened when I first came face to face with Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr. An Arizona wild thing who blazed through the skies of Europe during his whirlwind of a flying career in World War I. Known for his shock of platinum blond hair, his lumbering build, and a somewhat foul temper, one he often took out on enemy aerial observation balloons. Earning him the nickname – “the Balloon Buster.”

I met Luke while researching for a novel I was writing at the time. I sat on my bed one evening, flipping through a very old book about WWI pilots, when the battered old pages slipped through my fingers. They landed with a flop right on Luke’s picture. I actually jolted when confronted with that stern gaze. A steely fire in the eyes, still sizzling even after a hundred years. It took me a few seconds to compose myself and check the name at the bottom of the photo – “Frank Luke, the Balloon Buster.”

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So… where were we with this poetry series?

Those of you who have followed me for awhile might recognize it. A few years back, I tapped into my rhyming writer origins and penned a big poem (consisting of a lot of smaller poems, really) about the various evil ways wars have ended innocent human lives. I enjoyed posting it in small installments, but then came 2020. Given all the challenges chucked at us, I didn’t have the heart to continue with it.

However, there are still a lot of segments left to share with you. Since I’m working on a new series all about WWI aviators, I couldn’t resist pulling this one out of my files and dusting it off. I do plan on sharing the rest of those poems at some later date too. I guess we’ll see how things go.

But until then, here’s a little piece of it, in the spirit of my upcoming articles:

LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DIED

PART II – SEGMENT 5

Dogfight

Flying high over the skies of France

The breeze makes the wires of my plane wings dance

Below me the world is indifferent and small

Makes me wonder why humans fight each other at all

The men in the mud are like tiny brown dots

The scratches of barbed wire look like harmless spots

But that isn’t so with the Archie blasts

They burst at my head, hope my plane lasts

Suddenly I hear the familiar sound

The sizzle of bullets – an enemy fighter inbound!

I rev up my engine and get into line

My wingman gives the signal, it’s our time to shine

The enemy planes barrel into our midst

It’s a game of kill or be killed, that’s the gist

I let out my bullets in a red-hot spray

The tracers glow, and add to the fray

Then a shot to my fuel tank, the smoke pours out

The flames erupt, burn hot, I give a shout

Burning alive is no way to die

So I grab my pistol, one shot, goodbye

To Be Continued…

Sky Photo by M.B. Henry – for more sky shots, click here

Next up on the WWI Aviator series – American Ace and “Balloon Buster” Frank Luke!

But first…

M.B. Henry On Hiatus! 

It’s been a very busy summer in our new home state of Indiana! Plus, things are picking up with my novel debut, now titled “All the Lights Above Us,” scheduled for release in May of 2022. Therefore, I need to take a short break from the website to get all my little writing duckies in a row. But I will be back after Labor Day to continue with the WWI Aviator Series, and to visit all of your lovely blogs. Until then – be safe out there! Keep in touch on Twitter and Instagram – Handle @mbhenry1985

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WWI Aviator Series: The Red Baron

April 21, 1918. It’s a cold, clammy day, enveloped in billowing gray clouds. A scarlet triplane, marked with bold black crosses, hurdles towards the trench-scarred, soupy mud of Europe. The engine coughs and sputters. Men on the ground – battle-tested members of the Australian Imperial Troops – watch in slack-jawed horror as the machine drifts closer and closer to their works. It impacts hard, with a crash of splitting wood and snapping wires. No pilot emerges from the wreckage.

It’s a scene that played out countless times during the first world war. In planes more akin to matchstick houses with wings, built with technology born barely a decade before, crashes killed more pilots than any dogfights or bullets. Engines broke down mid-flight. Fuel leaked. Guns jammed. And in one of WWI’s biggest head scratchers, pilots had no parachutes. Some suspect it was on purpose, to keep them from prematurely abandoning their planes in a crash. Because flying machines were a bit harder to come by back then, with tens of thousands of pilots and not even half that many machines to keep them airborne.

Still, a cry of shock rose up from the battlefields when this particular plane came down. Because the splintered red tripe belonged to the invincible Manfred Von Richtofen – or as history has come to know him, “the Red Baron.”

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Is it me, or are bridges kind of fantastic? I don’t mean the concrete behemoth interstate overpasses, which are marvels of engineering, but not always the prettiest to look at. I mean the charming, rusty, old-fashioned bridges on the much quieter highways. Bridges over bubbling streams, shaded by lush, whispering trees. Covered bridges with leaning sheds and calendar-worthy photo ops. Bridges that have passed out of history but not our hearts.

It’s a sin that I lived in Iowa for years and never saw the Bridges of Madison County, either the movie or the real version. But I have seen some pretty amazing bridges in my day. Europe boasted a good many. I’ve passed over the famous Brooklyn Bridge and San Francisco’s Golden Gate. The legendary London bridges have also seen my shoes shuffling over their ancient structures.

But I have to say, some of the prettiest bridges I have ever seen were tucked away on old Route 66, barely noticed anymore by the fast-paced world around them. Absolutely charming works of art, with rusted beams, gorgeous trusses, and delicate overhangs. Many can’t support cars anymore, but they still stand as a testament to the travelers they have ushered from one shore to the next over time. And they still welcome foot traffic, gazes from the occasional tourists, and photographers.

As we prepare to move from the terrifying Covid crisis to a post-pandemic world, I thought a tour of the Route 66 bridges was just the ticket. A symbolic way for me, and hopefully you, to start the mental shift from staying home, masking up, and social distancing to timidly taking our first steps over the bridge to a new normal. One I hope will see us taking better care of one another and the world around us. So, without further ado, here are some bridge highlights from our drive across the Old Mother Road.

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Cold Harbor: When Leaders Fail

I stood at the bottom of an open trench, the trees looming above me. When I popped my head up, I saw a wide open field through the grove. If an army was coming at me, it would have been a clear shot. There were no hills, no trees, no ditches. Not even a dip in the earth for attackers to hide in. Yet I would have been virtually untouchable, fully protected by both the entrenchment and the tree trunks. It was one of the worst places I’ve ever seen for an infantry assault. Yet one happened here a very long time ago. And while the deep trench might bring to mind the Western Front of WWI, it was right in the middle of the United States – In Cold Harbor, Virginia.

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