A Man Named Stephen

Admittedly I wrote this just to get my writer friends to laugh.  Hope you like it too. Written with the prompts:  please miss me, man named Stephen, eternal spring, press on, family tree, did the love live?, pie dough apple sauce, this is where, Buddhist cat, one minute prayer, then the wolves came, clap on clap off

The tourist bus rumbled up Monte Diablo Drive, and I could hear the speaker from way over on the corner.  “This,” the scratchy voice intoned, “is where Stephen Valentine lived.”  Stephen Valentine, yes, I knew the man named Stephen who lived in the shady bungalow back when I was a kid, 30 years ago.  But back then we in the neighborhood called him Stevie or Val.  Such a nice man.  He always handed out free apples from the trees in his back yard.  In the fall his housekeeper and her daughters used to make three different kinds of apple sauce from the three different trees:  sweet golden, tart pippin, and a tangy one they called Buddhist Cat, after Stevie’s first top ten single.  Of course he was most famous for his song, “Did the Love Live?”  That was a hit first for the Mamas and the Papas, and then got covered by Barbra Streisand.  Of course Celine Dion sang a version of it over the end credits of that awful live action version of Bambi, but nobody likes to remember that.

Later he started writing children’s books.  He gave my mother a signed first edition of “Pie Dough Apple Sauce” for me, and it’s not that I’m ungrateful, but when he died, apparently they found close to two thousand signed first editions of that book, stacked up under the king size bed in the guest room, so I don’t think it’s all that special.

Still I guess he wasn’t discouraged, and that should be a lesson to us all to press on.  His biggest success was still ahead of him.  Because after that he wrote “Please Miss Me.”  That’s right, I’m talking about that Stephen Valentine!  I grew up right across the street from him!  You remember that big fat World War II epic novel that they made into a Paul Newman movie?  You remember—Meryl Streep played the barmaid/spy with the Irish brogue?  Yeah, that one.  Well, he wrote that novel, and helped with the screenplay too!  It was nominated for best picture, didn’t win that, but Stevie got the Oscar for best song, “Please Miss Me.”  Wrote it for the movie.  They played Buddhist Cat in the bar scene too, but you won’t hear that from any tour bus driver.

In the end, my mother used to send me over to read to him because he was nearly blind.  His housekeeper would set a timer and every day I’d have to read a little longer.  Mostly he wanted me to read Frank and Edith thrillers, and I kind of developed a taste for them.  Not that I understood them back then; I was only eleven.  But I found out later—my Mama told me—he wanted to break his addiction to morphine before he died, and having me read to him was the tonic he needed.  Of course I’m telling you all that on the Q.T.  Wouldn’t want the tour bus folk to know about that.  He would have been able to kick that habit too, but well, then the wolves came and it was just too late.

He left me a copy of his last composition, stuck as a bookmark in the latest thriller called, “Edith’s Family Tree.”  My name was scrawled at the top; he had dedicated it to me.  It was called “One Minute Prayer.”  It spoke of an eternal spring, and it ended with the rhythmic cadence:  “Clap on, Clap Off.”

If you’d like to read more crazy stories like this one, download my free e-book Wild Imaginings, by filling out the form on your right.

Photo by Shelley Pauls on Unsplash



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