James Eli Shiffer

Stories in words and pictures since 1967

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A painful return to the South

September 28th, 2010 · The South

Peaches and tracks, Eastern North Carolina, 1996

This morning, against the protests of my body and mind, I have risen in the dark and taken a seat in front of the computer. I intend to do this again and again, until I have slapped all of the notes and memories and fragments into something round and wet and sticky enough that it clumps together. I don’t want to use the “B” word yet. For now, it’s a “project.” I want to capture my many journeys as a writer into a forgotten corner of the American South, a place called Eastern North Carolina. I learned how to tell stories there. Now, I want to tell a really long one, five years after I moved 1,000 miles away. Until that’s done, I’ll be tossing occasional clods into this blog to see if they stick.

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Rubbed Out wins an Emmy

September 28th, 2010 · Projects

The envelope, please

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Prairie restoration, Cottonwood County, Minnesota

August 30th, 2010 · Travels

August 22, 2010

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The painting in my garage, and the unclaimed reward

July 1st, 2010 · Mysteries

Steve and Betsy Nelson, why do you want this?

A short time after I moved to Minneapolis, I was in the garage searching for a tool. I happened to see something tucked at the back of a shelf, so far that I hadn’t noticed it earlier. I pulled out this painting. It’s an ugly still life on canvas, mounted by an amateur on a wooden frame. Not the work of an incompetent, but the sort of thing that wouldn’t even sell at a garage sale. Then I turned it over, and everything changed.

The text is faded, but still legible

Someone wrote “De Colores!” with an exclamation point on the wood frame. On the back of the canvas itself, are some illegible words, possibly a name. What set my mind spinning was the neat writing, in pencil:

If found

Please Return

to Steve + Betsy


There will be

a reward

A reward! What could it be? If this painting was valuable enough for Steve and Betsy to promise a reward, how could they let it out of their grasp? How did it end up in my garage? No one named Steve and Betsy Nelson ever lived in this house. I checked. Having tracked down plenty of people in my time, I know that there’s nothing worse than trying to narrow down all of the Steve and Betsy Nelsons to the ones you want. They didn’t leave a phone number or an address, only that tantalizing promise. Steve and Betsy, if you read this, I’m ready to claim my reward.

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