The cattle ranching industry in Arizona is being torn apart due to corruption and crime. It has split longtime cowboys against each other. Much of it comes down to cattle rustling that has been allowed to thrive, with close to 3,000 heads of cattle stolen from at least 32 owners over the past few years. There may also be money laundering connected to the Mafia and Mexican drug cartels.
The corruption became so bad the Arizona Department of Agriculture tasked an investigator to look into it a few years ago. He gave the results of his investigation, known as “Operation Cow Posse,” to Judicial Watch in 2019 as the scandal escalated. Cattle ranchers told him the scandal went all the way to the Arizona Legislature. They claimed that a powerful lobbyist helped launder millions of dollars from Pinnacle West, the parent company of electric company Arizona Public Service, through cattle growers’ bank accounts. People working at the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association said they found files going back to 2006 showing the bank transfers.
The investigator believes Pinnacle West wanted to pay off powerful people in the water industry, so they laundered the money through ACGA and its related entity, the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, in order not to show the money coming directly from them. The investigator found over $10 million he says was laundered this way, and believes there were more incidents in the past.
So far, little has been done, in part due to fear that the Mafia and Mexican drug cartels are involved, and in part due to corruption in government and law enforcement.
But things may be changing, due to an email that Jacquelyn Hughes, the executive director of ACGA, sent to numerous people recently questioning the strange transfer of over $10 million. She said it was unusual that “ACGA, from 2016-2018 was taking in and spending anywhere from $60,000 – $100,000 per month. When you consider that ACGA’s primary source of revenue is membership dues and that our dues range from $75.00 – $450.00 per month, it is unclear both how ACGA came into this type of money and how it was spent. Even when considering annual convention revenue, the numbers do not add up.”
The scandal has resulted in multiple ongoing lawsuits, with ACGA in the middle of it. Under the leadership of Jay Whetton, who was elected president in 2018, the organization’s structure changed in order to give regular members the ability to vote on leadership. This was done in response to accusations that the ACGA was run like a fraternity by country club cowboys who had ties to the Mafia and Mexican drug cartels. The change caused a deep division in the organization, with the old guard splitting off and forming their own group. The new executive committee forged ahead, and last August, held a meeting to discuss how the Mafia and Mexican drug cartels launder money in the cattle industry.
Some of the cattle ranchers accused Emmett Sturgill, who was at the time first vice president of the ACGA and allegedly part of the old guard, of posting information from Operation Cow Posse, which included the names of 56 suspected cow thieves, on the internet in early November. At the same time, Sturgill accused them right back of posting the information and filed lawsuits against them.
The ADA lost interest in the case, which some cattle ranchers believe was due to corruption, and so the investigator continued on his own, unpaid, for Judicial Watch. Sturgill and his allies attempted to retake control of the ACGA in early November but failed. The old guard objected to the investigation, complaining that it was not done by law enforcement. But the new leadership defended the investigation, saying the government and law enforcement were not doing anything about it.
The Cattle Growers’ association in Mojave County resigned its affiliation with the ACGA in disgust at the continuous scandals, and prohibited Sturgil, who lives in the county, from being a member.
The ADA issued a statement a few days ago defending its poor record on investigating cattle rustling, dismissing media reports by saying official reports of thefts weren’t filed. Some of the old guard claim the accusations of cow theft are made up, because certain ranchers want to discredit the government from inspecting cattle and move to a system of private inspectors like they have in Mexico, where corruption is rampant.
But if this was true, then why did well-known Arizona cowboy Milo DeWitt, who lost over 400 head of cattle to theft, ask for assistance from the FBI, county sheriff, brand board and brand inspectors (who are under the ADA), the ADA’s top investigator, Judicial Watch, and meet with investigators several times? Or what about attorney and judge Tom Kelly in Yavapai County, who lost over 100 cows with calves, and complained to two brand inspectors? It sounds like the ADA is mincing words.
One cowboy characterized the problem this way, “Cattle growers in Arizona have no legitimate advocates in the state legislature because the industry is split down the middle; some people siding with the old guard, many of whom are corrupt, and some with the new guard, but the truth is most ranchers don’t really know the whole true story.”
After months of infighting and dealing with lawsuits, the immediate-past president and the first vice president, who was in line to be the next president, resigned their positions and also their membership. The ACGA will be holding its annual election of leaders in a few days. The future of the organization does not look hopeful. One longtime cattle rancher says the situation is impossible to fix, the FBI needs to step in and arrest the bad people. The longtime previous executive director of ACGA, Patrick Bray, a relative of the powerful lobbyist, had access to the bank accounts. Perhaps he can explain what went on with the money.
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Following the 2020 presidential election, Chris Cillizza, CNN’s recently fired politics editor, observing a Quinnipiac poll, stated that “76% of self-identified Republicans… said they believe there was ‘widespread fraud in the 2020 election.’” Yet, more Democrats, 78%, believe that the 2016 presidential election was “stolen.” So which party has the greater percentage of election deniers?
FOR DECADES, DEMOCRATS DISPUTED ELECTIONS THAT THEY LOST
- Biden and Democrats have a long history of contesting election outcomes.
- Many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barbra Lee (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), have cast doubt on every single Republican presidential victory in the last two decades.
- Every single Democrat president since 1977 has cast doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. elections.
- As recently as this year, Biden cast doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming 2022 midterms.
DEMOCRATS CALLED THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION “STOLEN”
- For years, Democrats have refused to accept the results of the 2000 presidential election.
- Al Gore repeatedly claimed that he was the real winner of the 2000 election.
- In 2002, Gore claimed he “would have won” if every vote in Florida was counted and that he “absolutely” believed he would become president after the ordered recount.
- Gore’s wife, Tipper, said that “I still believe we won.”
- In 2016, Gore brought up the 2000 election during a rally for Hillary Clinton and did not refute chants from the audience saying he won.
- In 2017, Gore implied Jeb Bush “may have had something” to do with him losing Florida.
- Gore, in 2017: “Actually, I think I carried Florida.”
- Hillary Clinton, more than once, questioned the legitimacy of the 2000 election.
- Then-President Bill Clinton in 2001 claimed that Gore actually won the election, suggesting that all the votes in Florida were not counted and that the Supreme Court had altered the outcome.
- Clinton: “The only way [Republicans] could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida.”
- Former President Jimmy Carter has repeatedly denied the results of the 2000 election.
- Carter, in 2005: “There is no doubt in my mind that Al Gore was elected president.”
- Carter, in 2014: “I don’t think that George W. Bush won the election in 2000.”
- Terry McAuliffe repeated claims that the 2000 election was “stolen” for over two decades.
- Repeatedly in 2001, then-DNC Chairman McAuliffe claimed that Al Gore won the election.
- In 2004, McAuliffe falsely accused Republicans of “stealing” the 2000 presidential election.
- In 2008, McAuliffe accused Republicans of “stealing” the 2000 election in his autobiography.
- In 2017, McAuliffe once again claimed that Al Gore “did win the election.”
- In 2021, McAuliffe doubled down on his previous “stolen” election claims and refused to say that Bush won the 2000 election.
- Former presidential candidate Rev. Jessie Jackson, Sr. said Gore’s election was “essentially taken and stolen.”
- Former DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) in 2016 said that Al Gore won Florida.
- Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the January 6th Committee, has repeatedly suggested the 2000 election was illegitimate.
- In 2002, Raskin wrote that the Supreme Court had “[frozen] the election results” in an “outrageous assault on democracy,” saying the Court had “ determine[d] the outcome of a presidential election.”
- In 2003, Raskin called Bush America’s first “court-appointed president.”
- 15 House Democrats even objected to counting Florida’s electoral votes.
- Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) questioned the 2000 Florida election results, calling them “fraudulent” and staging a walkout of the House chamber.
- Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) questioned the integrity of the election and “the future of our democracy.”
- Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) claimed that there was “overwhelming evidence” that Bush did not win the 2000 election and vowed there would be “no peace” as a result.
- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) called the Florida electoral count “inaccurate.”
- Former Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) said that Bush “was not elected,” saying in 2004 that Bush was chosen by the Supreme Court and that the election was stolen in a “coup d’état.”
DEMOCRATS RDISPUTE THE 2004 ELECTION
- The election in 2004 was no different than 2000, with Democrats once again denying the results of an election they did not agree with.
- In 2005, then-Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and then-Rep. Stephanie Tubbs (D-OH) filed an objection to the certification of Ohio’s electoral college votes.
- 31 House Democrats voted to reject electoral votes from the state of Ohio, including Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Barbra Lee (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), James Clyburn (D-SC), and now-Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).
- In 2005, House Democrats authored a report claiming there were “‘numerous, serious election irregularities” in Ohio’s presidential vote.
- John Kerry raised questions about the election on multiple occasions, claiming that many voters were “denied their right to vote; too many who tried to vote were intimidated.”
- In 2004, then-DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe commissioned a “comprehensive investigative study on election practices in Ohio” to address “legitimate questions and concerns.”
- In 2006, then-DNC Chairman Howard Dean stated that he was “not confident that the election in Ohio was fairly decided” in 2004.
- Then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) questioned the “integrity” of electronic voting machines in the 2004 election.
- In January 2005, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) claimed there were many “legitimate” questions regarding the “accuracy” and “integrity” of the 2004 election.
- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) applauded objections to the 2004 election and thanked Sen. Boxer for objecting to Ohio’s electoral votes, saying voters can’t be confident their vote will be counted.
- Then-Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) applauded Sen. Boxer and Rep. Tubbs Jones for objecting to Ohio’s electoral votes, calling their objections an “important service for American democracy.”
- Harkin also accused Republicans of a “concerted effort to suppress the vote” and suggested electronic voting machines could lead to “serious fraud.”
- Then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in 2005 applauded Democrat efforts to contest the 2004 election, called the election “flawed,” and suggested problems may have been the result of “manipulation.”
- Then-Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) alleged “systematic voter disenfranchisement” and faulty voting machines in the 2004 election.
- In September 2008, then-Sen. Barrack Obama (D-IL) joked about the 2004 election, saying it helps that in Ohio “Democrats are in charge of the [voting] machines” in the upcoming election.
- Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) questioned the use and efficacy of electronic voting machines in the 2004 election.
- In January 2005, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) praised Sen. Boxer’s challenge of the election, saying the debate is “fundamental to our democracy.”
- Then-Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) argued the 2004 election was “riddled with unnecessary problems.”
- Danny Davis (D-IL) claimed the 2004 election contained widespread “fraud.”
- Then-Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) claimed that “dirty tricks occurred across the state” of Ohio in the 2004 election.
- Then-Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) blamed “inadequate and malfunctioning” electronic voting machines for “numerous irregularities.”
- Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) claimed democracy was once again “thwarted” in 2004 and blamed the use of electronic voting machines for voter suppression.
- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said, “the system of voting broke down Nov. 2, 2004” and called for an independent audit of discarded ballots.
- Then-Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-CA) in 2005 attacked the efficacy of voting machines saying they “can’t be trusted.”
- Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) repeatedly claimed there were irregularities in the 2004 election.
- In November 2004, Nadler said that “we are requesting an investigation into all the allegations, of irregularities with respect to the electronic and other voting machines.”
- In November 2004, Nadler said that “well, we have received…any number of communications, e-mails, everything about all kinds of irregularities.”
- In December 2004, Nadler said that “paper ballots are extremely susceptible to fraud.”
- In January 2005, Nadler said the right to vote was “stolen” from voters.
- Then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) cast doubt on the security of electronic voting machines in the 2004 election saying he was “worried” that some machines do not have a paper trail.
- Then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said Boxer And Tubbs performed a “very valuable public service” and stated he was concerned with all “reports of voting problems in many parts of the country.”
- Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said the problems with the Ohio election could have been “outcome determinative.”
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 2006 wrote an op-ed claiming that Republicans “stole” the 2004 election.
- Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. “questioned the legitimacy” of the election and suggested the Bush victory was the result of “fraud and stealing.”
DEMOCRATS DISPUTE THE 2016 ELECTION
- In 2017, seven House Democrats tried to object to the 2016 election electoral votes.
- After President Trump’s victory in 2016, 67 Democrats boycotted his inauguration, with many “claiming his election was illegitimate.”
- After the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the election and claimed the election was stolen from her.
- In September 2017, Hillary Clinton said she would not “rule out” questioning the legitimacy of the 2016 election.
- In March 2019, Clinton smiled in agreement when former State Sen. Hank Sanders (D-AL) said the election was stolen from her.
- In May 2019, Clinton said the 2016 election was “stolen” from her.
- In September 2019, Clinton dismissed Trump as an “illegitimate president” and said “he knows” he stole the 2016 presidential election.
- In October 2019, Clinton said that Trump knows that he is “an illegitimate president.”
- In December 2019, Clinton nodded in agreement that she won the election.
- In July 2020, Clinton said Trump is scared for Americans to see “how illegitimate his victory” was.
- In October 2020, Clinton claimed that the 2016 presidential election was not conducted legitimately, saying, “we still don’t really know what happened.”
- Former President Jimmy Carter said he believed that “a full investigation” would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said “I believe” Russian interference altered the outcome of the election.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) dodged answering whether Trump was “a legitimate president.”
- Rep Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said the “legitimacy is in question” of Trump’s presidency.
- Then-Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said he did not believe President Trump is a “legitimate president.”
- Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said “there absolutely is a cloud of illegitimacy” to Trump’s presidency.
- Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said that Trump’s election was “illegitimate” and that Trump “is an illegitimate president.”
- Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) justified his decision to object to certification saying Republicans engaged in “deliberate voter suppression … in numerous swing states.”
- Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) refused to attend President Trump’s inauguration ceremony because Trump’s election victory was “tainted” by “foreign interference and voter suppression.”
- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) refused to say if Trump was a “legitimate president.”
DEMOCRATS CAST DOUBT ON OTHER ELECTIONS
- In 2018, Stacey Abrams refused to concede after losing the Georgia governor’s race and repeatedly challenged the “legitimacy of the election” after her loss.
- Following her defeat, Abrams never conceded and continued to argue that she truly won the election.
- Abrams said she would not concede a race that was an “erosion of our democracy,” was “not a free and fair election,” and was simply “not just.”
- She called her defeat “fully attributable to voter suppression” and argued there was widespread voter disenfranchisement.
- Many other prominent Democrats supported Abrams in her stolen election claims:
- Hillary Clinton said Stacey Abrams “would have won” Georgia’s gubernatorial race “if she had a fair election” and that Stacey Abrams “should be governor” but was “deprived of the votes [she] otherwise would have gotten.”
- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said “I think that Stacey Abrams’s election is being stolen from her.”
- Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said that “if Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia, they stole it.”
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said “the evidence seems to suggest” the race was stolen from Stacey Abrams.
- Former Vermont Governor and DNC chair Howard Dean said Abrams “should not concede” and that the election was “almost certainly stolen.”
- Obama Attorney General Eric Holder said “I tend to think Stacey Abrams won that election.”
- After losing his Florida gubernatorial race in 2018, Andrew Gillum withdrew his concession and pointed to “questions over the handling of the vote” in certain counties.
- In 2020, after losing his House race, former Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) called for authorities to investigate voting irregularities and issues of “massive disenfranchisement of voters.”
- Former State Sen. Rita Hart (D-IA) contested the election results of her House race loss in 2020, arguing that ballots were improperly rejected.
BIDEN AND HIS OFFICIALS MAKE STOLEN ELECTION CLAIMS
- In both 2013, and in 2016, Biden claimed that Gore won the 2000 presidential election.
- Kamala Harris has repeatedly cast doubt on election results over the years.
- Multiple Biden administration officials have a history of denying election results.
- For nearly two decades, Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain claimed that Al Gore won the 2000 election.
- Biden Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted that the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race was stolen.
- Jean-Pierre also cast doubt on the 2016 election, tweeting “stolen election …..welcome to the world of #unpresidented Trump.”
- Kamala Harris’ Communications Director Jamal Simmons for years tweeted that Bush “stole” the 2000 election.
- Cedric Richmond – Biden’s former Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement – said that John Lewis’ remarks on Trump not being legitimately elected were “reasonable.”
- Then-Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), now Biden’s HUD Secretary, said that Trump “may not be a legitimate president.”
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What if all of the sudden your doctor told you that you only had one year to live? How would your life change? Chris Widener, Founder of PolitiCrossing, talks about his new book, Four Seasons. Focus on the preciousness of life with Chris in this short video. You can purchase Four Seasons right here. Or read the first chapter below the video.
March 10, 3 p.m.
As Jonathan Blake turned off Roxiticus road and into his drive, he pushed the console button that would open his gate, and the massive, wrought-iron gates began to open. While waiting, his gloved hand on the stick shift, his eye caught the marker on the brick post. It read “Three Lakes.” When the gate had opened far enough, Jonathan eased his black luxury car through and continued up to the house. Jonathan had always cherished Three Lakes, but this afternoon, he loved it more than ever. Moving slowly up the mile-long driveway, he surveyed the land on which he had lived for most of his life. The massive, glorious trees that guarded the front entrance created a secluded tunnel leading to the first of the three lakes sitting just off to the right, a quarter-mile up the driveway. Lush, rolling terrain that occupied most of the rest of the 157 acres that made up the estate welcomed him warmly this afternoon.
The drive from Manhattan had taken him roughly an hour and 15 minutes. Having until two years ago been the owner of some 50 city and county newspapers up and down the East Coast, Jonathan had driven in and out of Manhattan thousands of times during his lifetime. This trip was different, though. There was so much to think about today, so much weighing on his mind. Monumental events loomed on the horizon—events that would affect Jonathan and his family profoundly and change their lives forever. Normally, the drive from the city to Three Lakes was a calm and soothing one, changing slowly along the way from the sterile, high-rise atmosphere of the fastest-paced city in the United States, to the natural, colorful scenery of the area surrounding Far Hills, New Jersey, deep in horse country. The drive usually drew Jonathan through an inner change, taking him from the overworked executive to the relaxed husband and father, ready to spend time with his family. Not so this day. The mind-numbing thoughts racing to and fro had made this drive seem nonexistent. By the time he approached Three Lakes, he was dull from the desperate mental exertion. He negotiated the drive on autopilot.
Nearing the house, Jonathan reached to touch another button, and the second stall of the five-car garage opened, making way for him to park. He slowed down and eased the car into its resting place. Turning off the engine and climbing out of the car, he pressed the opener again and closed the garage door behind him. The first stall, closest to the door to the mudroom, was reserved for his wife Gloria’s car, but seeing that it was gone, he knew that the house was his, at least for a time.
He rarely felt this way, but today he was glad Gloria was gone. He needed some more time to himself before revealing the tragic news.
The house on Three Lakes was enormous. At 23,000 square feet, the English Tudor-style home built by Jonathan’s father on the rolling landscape outside of Far Hills was the quintessential Northern New Jersey estate. It had five bedrooms in the family quarters, a two-bedroom guest wing above the garages, and a formal dining room that seated thirty-two when the large cherry table was extended. The huge kitchen was where wonderful family memories began, where feasts were prepared for the hungry family to enjoy. In addition, there were formal and informal living rooms, a den, a recreation room complete with a billiards table built in 1865, and two offices, one for Jonathan and one for Gloria. The two rooms that set Three Lakes apart from the other large homes in the area were the library and the ballroom. It was Jonathan’s mother, Charlotte, who, indulging a lifelong love affair with books, made sure that her husband, Edgar, included a library when he built the home. It was 2 stories high, with bookshelves all the way around its 1,800 square feet, holding 20,000 volumes. All of the great books of history were there, and Jonathan, also a book lover and avid reader, had spent hundreds of hours in the library reading them. The room was decorated exquisitely with overstuffed leather couches, recliners, and study tables in the corners, complete with a banker’s lamp on each. Providing access to the volumes on high shelves above your head was a two-story, rolling oak ladder that moved around the perimeter of the room.
The second special room was the 4,000-square-foot ballroom. Throughout their years together, Edgar and Charlotte had hosted many a party there and always engaged the most popular bands and ensembles to entertain their friends, relatives, and business acquaintances. A large chandelier hung like a sparkling beach umbrella in the center of the room, while off to the side were sitting areas around the wooden dance floor where tired dancers could talk, enjoy good food, and drink their wine or champagne. A huge fireplace dominated the outer wall, and in the winter months, guests looked forward to the warmth of a crackling fire. Large, two-story windows around the room gave way to broad, sweeping views of the gazebo, the front gate below, and the largest of the three lakes. The room was, quite simply, breathtaking.
Edgar and Charlotte Blake had built the home as a place in which to raise their two children, Betsy and Jonathan, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was their permanent family retreat. When Jonathan was 20, his older sister died in a freak drowning accident. Edgar and Charlotte then lived alone after Jonathan left for college, their solitude punctuated with frequent visits home from Jonathan and later, Jonathan and Gloria.
When Edgar died at the age of 64, he left the house to his wife, Charlotte Wilson Blake. She died four years later, and the house in which Jonathan had grown up became his. Jonathan, Gloria, and their four children have lived there ever since.
After entering the house through the mudroom, Jonathan moved quickly through the kitchen, stopping only briefly at the preparation island in the middle of the room to see what had come in the mail that was laid out there. He quickly perused the stack and came to the conclusion that there was nothing important, at least not compared to what else had been occupying his mind since this afternoon. He left the kitchen cutting through the formal living room, down the hall, through the main foyer, and into his haven, his office.
Jonathan always felt safe and at home in the office that had originally been his father’s. Scores of books nestled in the bookshelves, surrounded by dark, rich, mahogany woodwork and leather furniture. He settled into his favorite chair next to the glass cabinet that held his favorite hunting rifles and shotguns, slipped his tired feet out of his shoes, and raised his legs to rest on the ottoman. Reaching over to the table next to him, he opened a small humidor and took out an Opus X cigar, one of the small pleasures of his life. Jonathan never smoked more than one per week when he was working, as he didn’t want them to become commonplace but to remain a special privilege he allowed himself as a reward for making it through another hard week at the office. Since retiring, though, sometimes he would allow himself an additional cigar during the week. After cutting the tip off, he took the lighter from the table and lit the cigar. Jonathan savored the rich aroma of the cigar. He loved the smell and had since he was a little boy when Edgar would relax with an occasional cigar.
There he was, home by himself and left to his own thoughts. The quiet of the house was deafening as he sat motionless, his head resting against the back of his chair. He stared out the window toward the backyard, where he could see the gazebo and the fields beyond. He looked longingly over his land and dreamed of what the future might have held.
“How will I tell them?” he wondered. “When will I tell them? What will they think? What will they do? How can I let them down like this?” As a cloud of cigar smoke curled into the air, his eyes turned toward what the Blake family affectionately called “The Wall.” The walls of the office were covered with artwork, plaques, and diplomas, but “The Wall” was reserved for the special photos that, taken together, told the story of his life. Jonathan put his cigar down in the ashtray and walked deliberately to the wall to gain a closer look. There stood Jonathan Blake. He was a tall, good-looking man. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, he was still in good shape, though in these later years in life, he had lost a little weight as some of his muscle mass had disappeared. In his younger years, he had weighed close to 190, a picture of good health. Now, his hair was dark, with just a touch of gray, the symbolic mist of wisdom framing his temples. His eyes were steel blue. All in all, he had leading-man good looks.
Set among the pictures were his 12 favorites. He buried both hands deep in his pockets and, moving from left to right along “The Wall,” he considered each picture and the time of life it represented. There was the picture of Jonathan and Betsy, aged 10 and 12, along with their parents, out in the back of the house next to the original gazebo, still full of vim and vigor, ready for life. He remembered the day well. It was warm and sunny, and he was a typical boy. His mother and father had asked him repeatedly to settle down and leave his sister alone so that they could get on with the picture taking. It was an amateur family portrait, but it captured this family, and that was what was significant. It showed them on the land that they loved, together for a moment in time. Jonathan thought of what a beautiful woman Betsy would have been had she lived. She had a broad, white smile that was infectious. Jonathan wished that his family could still be together. Now, as the other three were gone, this was an important picture, an important memory, for Jonathan. It was a connection to his past, his original family, his blood. His eyes turned to the picture of him and Edgar fishing in Pennsylvania. Charlotte had captured this on film when Jonathan was 14 on one of the family’s vacations. Edgar loved to fish and hunt, a passion that he eagerly and successfully instilled in his only son. In this photograph, Jonathan, not Edgar, was reeling in the big one, something that didn’t happen very often. Jonathan’s boyish grin was the center of the picture, his father’s smile of pride in his only son a close second. Jonathan looked just like Edgar, simply younger.
Just below that was a picture of Jonathan’s lacrosse team at the Delbarton Catholic Boys High School outside of Morristown. The Blakes were Presbyterian, but Jonathan, and then Jonathan’s two boys, Michael and Thomas, all attended Delbarton because it provided the finest education money could buy in that area of New Jersey. Thomas, the youngest of Jonathan and Gloria’s four children, would graduate that spring from Delbarton and then go on to Princeton University, another family tradition.
Delbarton had taught Jonathan to love a classical education and given him an outlet for his love of the written word. It also taught him to place God in the center of his life and to remember that he had a responsibility to his Maker and his fellow man. Delbarton was also where Jonathan pursued his passion for sports. He always played team sports, and he was elected the captain of the lacrosse team in both his junior and senior years. Many of his fellow students came from wealthy families, so it was always a source of inner satisfaction for Jonathan, knowing that it was his leadership abilities and athletic skill, not his father’s money, that got him voted captain by his teammates. His senior year, the lacrosse team went to the state finals but lost, despite Jonathan’s valiant effort of three goals.
The team picture brought that game to mind, and Jonathan studied each member of the team. He saw young men about to graduate from high school, go on to college, and then into the real world. He had kept up with most of his teammates and knew at least where most of them were and where their lives were taking them. As with all senior classes, some went on to do great things, others to more mundane and ordinary lives. Some, like Jonathan, attained great fame and wealth. Others lived simply, content with an average existence.
Jonathan thought about each of these teammates, so childlike then, so energetic, so full of dreams. Life had taken them in many directions. He wondered how many of them were truly happy now as they neared the twilight of their lives. He wondered how much longer they would live and what legacy they would leave for others. He wondered if any were truly making a difference in the lives of those around them or if they were just waiting life out, distracted by a plethora of activities.
In the middle of “The Wall” was a large picture of Jonathan and his precious mate, Gloria. He was a sophomore at Princeton, she a freshman at Drew University in Madison, about an hour away. Gloria had come to know Jonathan through her brother Martin, a classmate of Jonathan’s who now lived in Germany and taught at a university there. The picture was taken in front of one of the restaurants on Palmer Square. Jonathan noticed how young they looked. Their faces were so… taut. Age takes its toll on your skin first, he thought. There they were. Gloria was beautiful. Not striking, but naturally good-looking. Her light-brown hair caught the sunlight just so in the picture. At the time of the picture, they had been dating only two months, but they were in love and about to realize they would spend the rest of their lives together. He reminisced about Gloria. She was a spunky but brilliant young woman from South Jersey. Jonathan was bright, to be sure, but his family’s network of relationships definitely played a part in helping the Princeton admission process go smoothly. After college, Gloria taught school until Jennifer was born four years into her teaching career. How he respected and adored Gloria. He still caught himself looking lovingly at her across the room when she was not aware of him. Occasionally, she would catch him looking, and he would just smile a smile of love and appreciation.
Beside the picture of Gloria and Jonathan was a picture taken at a restaurant in Paris while on their 10th-anniversary trip. Jonathan had been to Europe many times before, but Gloria had only dreamed about it. Jonathan arranged to surprise her with this trip. It was the only time they went to France, and it was memorable for the setting as well as the occasion. Around that photo were four others, each one with Jonathan and one of the four children. There was Jonathan and Jennifer, the oldest of the Blake children, eating cotton candy at the zoo when she was 9. She was a small version of her current self with her brown hair, blue eyes, and a wide smile. How he loved Jennifer. He remembered when she was born, how he had cradled her in his arms so tenderly that first time. He had gazed into her eyes, amazed at the gift of life that God had bestowed upon him. How would he care for her? How would he be able to provide all that another human being, his child, needed? He had felt deeply the awesome privilege and responsibility of another life under his care.
Jennifer had grown up to be a strong woman, a lawyer. She was beautiful, proud, and self-confident. Yet Jonathan knew that her life was not perfect. Jennifer and her husband Scott, who was also a lawyer, were obviously not happily married. This caused Jonathan and Gloria much pain; they had many discussions on how they might possibly be helped. Jonathan pondered what might happen to them in the future. He didn’t know. And now, more than ever, he felt completely unable to provide any help. He wanted to do something, anything, to steer them in the right direction. He made a mental note to work on that soon.
There was also a picture of Jonathan with Michael, his second child, wrestling on the living room floor, both of their faces beaded with sweat and looking directly into the camera as if they had stopped and posed. How does a father describe his love for his first son? Jonathan breathed deeply, letting the air out in a heavy sigh. Jonathan had dreamed of a life of partnership with Michael, and his son had not disappointed him. Michael had also graduated from Princeton and was becoming a young man who would, in a few years, be ready to partner with his father in life and work. Jonathan had for years vividly pictured in his mind late nights plotting the next adventure with Michael, alternating between bestowing fatherly wisdom and eagerly embracing the vigor of a young man pursuing a higher goal. Michael was now married to Patty, a charming young woman whom Jonathan and Gloria considered the greatest find Michael could have made. Grandchildren would come from these two first, he figured. The thought of grandchildren was important to Jonathan—even more so now.
A picture of Samantha, Jonathan and Gloria’s third child, and her dad dressed exquisitely for a high school, father-daughter dinner was next to the picture of Michael and Jonathan. Jonathan wore a dark-blue, double-breasted suit. He had looked dapper, he thought. Samantha wore a dark-blue dress to match. Samantha. Now she was a pleasant enigma to Jonathan. She was the tenderest of the Blake children. A typical middle child, she was quiet and deferred to the strength of the older children and the attention shown to her younger brother. She usually played the role of the quiet helper in the Blake family. Jonathan admired Samantha for her calm spirit. He appreciated her servant’s heart immensely. He thought the world of her. The problem was simply that he didn’t know her very well. Yes, this picture placed him at a certain time and date in her life, but the reality was that if any of the Blake children had been lost in the shuffle of Jonathan’s busy life, it was Samantha. Jonathan hadn’t spent much time getting to know her while she was growing up, and now he regretted that. Soon she would be marrying William Moore, a young Presbyterian minister, and begin to develop her own life and family. He had thought ever since the engagement that the chances of delving into his daughter’s heart and life were growing increasingly slim. He had often pondered recently how he might find time to make a place for himself in Samantha’s life. This, too, he would make a priority now.
A picture of the youngest, Thomas, about age 14 and looking a lot like Jonathan did in the picture with Edgar, and Jonathan holding a shotgun in one hand and a duck in the other, completed the collection of pictures of Jonathan and his children. Thomas had brought a sense of completeness to Jonathan. He had always wanted four children. His slightly morbid reason being that he wanted to make sure he had more than two children in case anything happened to one of them. While Michael had been groomed to be a businessman, Thomas had been groomed to take up Jonathan’s leisurely pursuits such as hunting and fishing. He was smart and did well in school, but his passion was in sport. Michael could obviously handle a rod and reel or a shotgun, given the scores of trips he had taken with his father to pursue fish, elk, and deer, but Thomas was a young master in Jonathan’s eyes.
Yes, Jonathan pondered, each of the children had their strengths and weaknesses, as do all people, but all in all, they were good kids, leading good lives. Jonathan was very proud of them all and loved them as only a father could. Finishing off “The Wall” were pictures of the family on the beach in Florida, a picture of the combined staffs of Jonathan’s newspapers taken at one of their annual Christmas parties, and, next to the picture of Gloria and Jonathan, was a family portrait. Here was the Jonathan Blake family, attired in suits and dresses, standing on the newly renovated gazebo in the backyard. It was a beautiful summer day, and there was a lot to be happy about. The family was all together, they had attained wealth and status that only a few ever achieve, and above all, they were healthy.
All of the pictures on Jonathan’s wall boldly declared one thing: Family man. Jonathan Blake had remained married and faithful to his one true love for his whole life, had succeeded in business beyond anyone’s expectations, including his own, provided jobs for literally hundreds of people, and had raised four fine, upstanding, God-fearing children who would most likely repeat the pattern in their own lives. His life appeared to be a success.
As he stood there staring at the family portrait, thinking more of the trouble he was now facing and the dread with which he faced it, knowing the impact it would have on his family, he heard the mudroom door swing open and then close again. Gloria was home. Jonathan’s heart began to race. He stood there, hands still deep in his pockets. He didn’t move. He didn’t need to. Gloria would surely look for him in his office first. She would be there soon enough, asking questions Jonathan didn’t want to answer. He didn’t want to have to do what he would be required to do in the next few minutes. In fact, he loathed the pain he was about to cause his love.
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