THE GIRL DOWN BY THE MILL

A short story by Award Winning author Stan Lerner:

 I was a person of means and considerable talent, when I left the city of my birth. To some this may sound like the words of a man lacking for humility, but suffice it to say that my many character flaws are more humbling to my soul than the wearing of rags and walking with my head bowed low. And although there are many nuances to humility it can generally be said that humility at its very core is simply the understanding that all comes from God. A man of means could have worked every hour of every day and accumulated nothing if for it not being God’s will, that he wax rich. And conversely it is true that a man may have done little to upset his restive state and yet still have been blessed by great wealth. Of course I could go on with numerous examples, but a short story is often more appreciated. I declare now that everything that I have is from God and everything that I do not have I am not deserving of because I am a sinner…And there is this one thing that I have, that for the life of me I cannot know what I have done to deserve, that would be the girl that I met down by the mill.

Some journeys take the adventurous at heart to the ends of the earth. And other journeys take the adventures of the heart much past the point of death. You see it is safer to climb the highest mountain than to know one’s own heart, in fact it was coming to know my own heart that drove me to the brink of an angry existence, which is tantamount to death. The poor are dead for they have no choices, but the angry have chosen death because anger is simply the purest form of idolatry. How often I can recount seeing the faces of idolatrous worshipers on fire with some misplaced passion. All of this being recounted, I should explain more completely that I was to walk both paths before leaving the place of my birth to find a place to call home.

As a young man my pursuit of wealth knew no bounds, so voracious was my appetite for money, even to this very day, I am not able to conceive of an amount that would have satisfied my lust. Upon concluding that material wealth alone would not satiate the beast within, I turned to fame, but not the despicable fame of those who are famous for being famous, which is an existence lower than that of the shellfish, which exist on the consumption of the fesses of other fish. No, only the fame derived from great accomplishment would do. Physical accomplishment of the aforementioned adventurer was of little interest; I had climbed high peaks and won many a worthless trophy and medal. What peak hadn’t already been climbed—a question this is not. And while no man could ever obtain the knowledge of all things, as King Solomon had, Albert Einstein had made it relatively clear that the final frontier, that which is the genius of imagination, is infinite. Never ending genius, therefore the never-ending titillation of a greedy man such as I. So to this endeavor I put myself—the honor achieved by presenting that, which is imagined into the written word.

And yes, like wealth before it, I did also gain honorable fame, an oxymoron if ever there was…I will say this, that like death I wish no man discomfort, but for those who despised me for my wealth, my fame as a wordsmith was all too much. And I did chuckle at the expense of these fools, so disquieted by another’s success they were, when all know that my success was only possible by the miserable failure of succumbing to vanity. I did indeed almost fail my way to the top, yet the Lord found mercy on my soul and spared me this final tragedy. “Can a man such as I really start over somewhere?” I asked, as I drove down the road with no particular destination in mind. “Or will I just roam the wilderness of life?” Continue reading

ON THE PORCH

Many years ago I sat on a porch and rocked, writing a poem about being Grand Again, words of a man that called a hotel on Mackinac Island a friend, but more than this a beginning and end.

Last night I sat on the porch of Iron Gate and rocked, visited by a friend, and of God we talked. Some young people stopped in to say hi, causing me to think of those days gone by. One read Grand Again aloud, and there I sat in the crowd, thinking how fortunate we were all to be at Iron Gate, a grand place to which I came late.

But better to come late than not at all, a thought which is meant to make men like I to stand tall. And isn’t it said to our last breath we can repent, perhaps it is I for which this is meant. I have regrets, and I fear for those who do not, because without regret repentance is not.

I spoke to the young people about the great man that built Iron Gate, and explained that my coming was indeed a matter of fate. Continue reading

THE IRON GATE INN

Those who travel know this truth: there a few spots on earth that one comes across during his or her journey, that are their own—a vortex, if you will, to a better mindset, an inner peace, a higher existence. And then there are spots that encompass all of the aforementioned, but are not just unique to the individual; they indeed do exist for us all. I felt this feeling as my car traveled down the road toward the Iron Gate Inn, first as I entered the small town of Winfield and then as I pulled up to the front of Iron Gate.

The beautiful lawn, the billowing old trees, the towering columns and that incredible wrap around porch, were more than a hint of the magic, which lay just beyond the door. And indeed, the moment I entered the grand, old house, the feeling was magical. A spirit of transcendence immediately engulfed I and I felt as though I myself lived in a better time—a synthesis of the best of the past, present and the future. I felt like I had entered the world of J.P. Baden, a world where anything was possible—even greatness.

Of course Iron Gate was built by the legendary businessman J.P. Baden more than a 125-years-ago. Mr. Baden had immigrated to America at the age of 15 and moved to Winfield ten years later to build his fortune. It began as a mercantile venture to bring an abundance of fair priced goods to the town and then quickly evolved into a packinghouse that would supply eggs, butter, milk and flour to the entire country. To put Mr. Baden’s business into a contemporary perspective, the Baden packinghouse was three football fields wide by one football field deep and on any given day it shipped 14,000 pounds of butter among its many other products. Continue reading

EASTSIDE CHIPPERY THE FINAL CHAPTER

As I sit in one of my favorite coffee houses, somewhere in a small town in Kansas, my mind drifts to the last year in which I performed my services as Chef Stan, The Iron Chef, of Montebello’s Eastside Chippery. Of all the roles I have played, master criminal, art dealer, visual artist, night club owner, clothing designer, movie producer and all the variations there of, I can honestly say that Chef Stan and the Eastside Chippery may have been the most challenging. And perhaps the most rewarding.

Usually at this point I would recap some of my thoughts from the blogs Eastside Chippery Part I and Part II, but frankly I’m not much in the mood to look back—I’ll save that for the book. Suffice it to say that a little over a year ago I wound up taking over a really bad Mexican food restaurant in my hometown of Montebello. And this restaurant, against all odds, turned out to be both an incredible fiasco and success simultaneously during the same year. This being said, I’d like to share some of the deeper thoughts and emotions that I experienced during the course of being Chef Stan of the Eastside Chippery.

In many ways I am the ultimate of ordinary and yet there is a very unusual spark here and there that has for all of my life made me different. I say this now because it’s always had an effect and or influence on how things I’ve been involved in have turned out. It’s also the reason that people throughout my life have had such strong reactions toward me. In short, I’ve been blessed to have been the recipient of kindness and teaching by people of much greater accomplishment than myself and I have also been hated by people who have perceived insult or mistreatment, which in fact may have occurred, but certainly to no degree that merited, in some cases, unadulterated malice.

For 45 years or so, there was a part of me that just wanted to be normal. However, in my heart there was an even greater desire to be special. And over the last year at the Eastside Chippery I came to realize that both were vanity and the source of much of what had become frustrating and emotionally painful to me. One might ask, hadn’t you heard the words of King Solomon? And the answer is, yes, I had heard the words “Vanity of vanities…” but hearing and understanding do not necessarily equate to harkening. As I stood in the kitchen cooking and washing dishes sometimes for 32 hour stretches at a time, my heart, for lack of better words, began to soften and the vanity to dissipate. Continue reading