Monday, January 22, 2018

Have Children's Books Changed?

I’ve been thinking about the books I read as a kid and, on the surface, I don’t think they have much in common with what kids today are reading. When I Google to see popular kid’s lit, things like Charlotte’s Web, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Where the Wild Things Are pop up. These books seem light-hearted in comparison to what I remember.

As a small child the books I read over and over were Aesop’s Fables, Mother Goose Rhymes, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The first taught me morals, the second was for fun, and the last showed me fantasy worlds, grim though they were. They all seem a little dark as I look back and remember.


Although Aesop only insinuated good and bad, it was easy to see the difference and to determine that the reward for good behavior was preferable to the punishment for bad behavior. Aesop also taught me to be wary, to look beneath the surface and see that things are not always as they may seem. There are over six hundred of these fables written by a man believed to have been a slave in ancient Greece. That might explain some things. All of his little stories were told through the eyes of animals, and I think that is what pulled me into the book as a child.

My favorite Aesop tale was The Lion and The Mouse, where the lion had the option of eating the mouse or listening to the mouse’s plea that he might prove useful later, which he did by chewing a rope in two when the lion was caught in a trap. This taught me that kindness was preferable to snap emotional decisions, to not measure a person’s value by appearance, and to think of the future, a thing a small child rarely thinks of. Even now, when certain situations come up, one of the old Aesop’s Fables pops into my head, slows me down a little and makes me think before acting.


Mother Goose was my introduction to poetry, and I continue to think of poetry as rhymes, though there are many many different kinds. Remember Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon, Jack be nimble Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick, and I even learned my months with Thirty days has September, April, June and November. Many of the Mother Goose poems were so endearing they became songs like Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool, Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, and Hush Little Baby don’t say a word, Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. This last one has been recorded by Carly Simon and James Taylor, changed up just a little but still the same idea.

The Mother Goose Rhymes are attributed to many different origins some dating back to seventeenth century France and beyond, but the first publication was by Charles Perrault in 1697, published in French and later transcribed to English in 1729 by Robert Samber. So I guess Mother Goose was neither a mother nor a goose, although I do have that picture embedded in my brain.


And then somehow I was introduced to Grimm’s Fairy Tales with immediate favorites of The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Cinderella. Fear seems to be the common thread through all these dark stories. I don’t remember how I got this book but I do remember having my own copy and considering it a huge treasure. I can even remember dreaming about Hansel and Gretel. Now, as an adult, it’s doesn’t seem quite as child-friendly. In fact, I bought a copy awhile back intending to read some of the stories to my then small grandchildren. I changed my mind and tucked it away in the bookcase.

The brothers who wrote these tales, Jacob and Wilhelm, originally penned much more gruesome scenes which today might be considered R or X rated. They were not written to entertain children, but somehow children became their main audience, and in future publications the adult content was cleaned up, and cleaned up even more in our time by Walt Disney and others.

The Grimm brothers were German librarians whose intents were to hand down German folklore and in contrast to later publications, the originals did not always have happy endings. Snow White was not wakened by the Prince’s kiss but by a good jarring of her glass coffin, and the wicked witch who was really Snow White’s mother is forced to dance herself to death in a pair of red-hot iron shoes. Ouch! And in Cinderella, her step-sisters actually cut off parts of their feet trying to fit them into the glass slipper. Yuck, sure glad I didn’t have that version; it could mar you for life.


Kids today read about moral improvement, emotional challenges, and diversity but the writing styles are very different from my era, what I would call a little dumbed-down and a lot of happy-upped. Many kids only read graphic novels (we called them comic books) which leave little to a child’s imagination. Everything is right there on the page, no mind visualization necessary. I think this is sad especially when stories help us so much to make sense of ourselves, sometimes even shaping our future selves.

I’m glad I have my little kid reading memories and even though I don’t have the tangible books, those synapses from yesteryear continue popping through my brain, keeping me on the straight and narrow.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christmases Past





Christmas has always been a happy time for me, and now, without Jim, I have many memories of happiness for comfort. I remember three Christmases in particular as I think about the holidays of the past.

One is an image of teens, boys in white shirts and dark trousers, and girls in white blouses and dark skirts. The year was 1960 and I was among this group as we progressed, two-by-two, up the center aisle of my high school auditorium. Each of us held a lighted candle in our right hand with little paper drip pans pushed up through the bottoms. All the girls wore corsages of sprigs of holly tied with a red bow, which we had helped to pin on each other as we waited in the library. We sang the words to “O Come All Ye Faithful” as we slowly walked to the front of the auditorium, and we glowed in the admiration of the onlookers, our parents and friends filling every seat. 

We filed into the rows of our designated seating and blew out our candles, wisps of white smoke floating upward. We heard the special music of soloists, one I remember in particular.. She was a tiny little girl with long black curly hair, but her voice was anything but tiny. I don’t remember her name. She was younger and in a lower grade than I was, but when she began to sing “Oh Holy Night”, I got goose bumps all over. She was magnificent and captured the complete attention of the entire audience. I’m thankful for this special Christmas memory of my junior year in the glee club.

Another Christmas I remember well was my first with Jim as his wife. He was an Airman Second Class at Dover Air Force Base, and, of course, we were poor. I think his monthly allotment was something like $125. Credit cards were still in the future and our rented living quarters were tiny. We managed to get a small tree and a few decorations and lights from my Mom. I can see myself sitting on the sofa in the dark, watching them blink on and off as I waited for Jim to come home on Christmas Eve.

The only presents under the little tree were from our relatives, and we agreed presents were not important between the two of us. We were happy just to be together. But when Jim came home, he was carrying a huge heavy gift-wrapped box. I couldn’t imagine what it could be, and I knew whatever it was, we had no money for it.

He wanted me to unwrap it right away and I was eager enough. There would be time for questions later. It turned out to be a portable stereo record player and in another package there was an album of our favorite songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary. We played that album until we knew the words of every song and the order in which they would come up. Jim’s favorite, Old Stewball and mine, Blowin in the Wind, were played over and over that night and for many weeks afterwards. Nothing could have made me happier

Even later when I found out the way the present came into being, my enthusiasm remained high. It seems Sears and Roebuck had discovered a way for everyone to spend money in their store for Christmas. It was called a revolving charge account. I won’t tell how much that stereo ended up costing. But it was worth every penny.

The third Christmas I think of is a sad one, but has ended up being a wonderfully happy memory for many people. In the summer of 1986, Jack, Jim’s older brother, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Surgery revealed the cancer had already spread, and he was given less than a year to live. As Christmas neared, his family decided to make it a very special one since it might be his last. All Jack’s friends and relatives were invited to a huge Christmas party in his honor. People brought every food imaginable, games were played, the kids, and even some grownups, put on hilarious skits and went out of their comfort zones for laughter and memories.

One of Jack’s daughters took rolls of pictures and had copies made for all the relatives. I still have my set and always pull it out near Christmas time each year. Everyone looks so happy, doing their very best to make Jack’s Christmas special. I always get a warm feeling as I see the faces of love in those pictures.

I have many other happy Christmas memories, but these three are way up there at the top of the list, and it makes me feel good just by sharing them.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Can't Live Without That Morning Joe

I don’t know about you but the first thing I think of in the morning when I get up is coffee. I must have a cup of that hot steaming black liquid in my hand as an impetus to the balance of the day. It gets me going, helps me think, and in the recent freezing weather, yes, freezing to me, it warms me up. I’ve tried cocoa and tea, but somehow neither one measures up to hot black coffee. I keep it healthy by having only one cup per day.

Last Tuesday morning was no different. Although Mopsy’s breakfast comes first because of the constant meowing, that cup of black coffee is number one priority. I have a small French Press which lets me make it in record time. I don’t need to wait for perking or the drip drip drip through the coffee maker. All I need is one spoonful of grounds and one cup of hot water and presto, three to four minutes later I have the perfect brew.

So Tuesday morning as usual the first thing I do is heat the water which I accomplish in the microwave. I fill my glass measuring cup with the required one cup measure, place it in the microwave, and hit the beverage button. The light comes on, the countdown from 2 minutes and 30 seconds begins, and I hear the thump thump drum of whatever that gadget inside is as it completes its intended job.

Meanwhile, I dump the spoonful of grounds into the glass press and get my prepared overnight oats and yogurt from the fridge. Two spoonfuls of yogurt and a quick mix, and my breakfast is almost ready. At just about this second in my morning activity, the microwave sounds off its three beeps telling me my coffee water is hot. I open the door and as my hand nears the glass measuring cup, I feel like there is something wrong. I touch it and it’s barely warm. Oh no, my ancient microwave has finally died. I’m not only devastated at not having hot water for my coffee, I feel like I have lost one of my best friends because it’s been my loyal hard-working companion for such a long time.  Well, I can’t complain. It’s been how many years? So long I can’t remember.

Realizing the microwave is not going to do it for me this morning, I grab the tea kettle, pour in the one cup of lukewarm water and turn on the stove burner, the smallest one so it will heat the quickest, but still minutes slower than the microwave. Sometime later, with coffee made and oats in hand, I progress to my breakfast station in front of the computer. I’m thinking, jeez, I can’t wait this long for hot water, I’ll have to find a new microwave today. So as soon as I’m finished eating and drinking, I’m web surfing to find a new one, Amazon, Home Depot, K-Mart, Walmart, Target, the list goes on.

With the coffee finally waking up my brain, I begin to wonder why the water was lukewarm if the microwave is dead. Does a microwave work a little bit as it dies, putting its all into that one last effort? Do those invisible waves bounce around a little slower and only do some of their job? That doesn’t sound right. Maybe I need to find the instruction booklet and see what it says about that. Searching for instructions for a microwave that is who knows how old takes some time, but as a person who never throws away important papers, eventually I have it in hand. I skim over the ‘if something goes wrong’ pages but see nothing that might apply to my problem of lukewarm water so I go back to the beginning of the booklet.
Operating Instructions, changing power levels. I read on and find that Power Level Hi is for boiling liquids. I don’t ever remember changing power levels and the booklet says Hi is the factory setting unless manually changed. Hmmmm. I prepare another cup of water, place it in the microwave, follow the instructions for setting the power level to Hi and press Beverage. And guess what, my water comes out coffee ready. And to think I was already picturing how I was going to heave my poor old microwave into the trash container.

As I continue to use old faithful for all my microwave needs, it hasn’t let me down. I don’t have to set the power level, “it” knows all on its own. I can only guess a power surge or some other blip in the electricity confused its brain, but between a cup of coffee and my human brain, my microwave’s life has been renewed and it continues serving me in its familiar spot on my kitchen counter.



Friday, October 27, 2017

Camping



The cool crispy air of last Wednesday morning reminded me of camping, something I’ve done only once in my lifetime back in 1968. A couple that we were friends with during the early part of our marriage went camping all the time. They had three girls and a slide-in pickup camper with a bed over the top of the truck and another small one on the side. The girls had tents. Camping was their main entertainment and always part of their vacations. I wasn’t an outdoorsy person, and Jim was a workaholic, so we had to be talked into it but talked into it we were…this one time.

Trap Pond is a State Park in Delaware, actually a cypress swamp, and it was the destination for our weekend camping trip. It’s a shady place on a huge pond that is large enough to be a lake. With grassy open areas it’s perfect for kids to play and families to gather. We had two very young ones, three and four years old. Bill and Donna’s older girls were to be our built-in babysitters. They had lots of experience with their youngest sister, Kelly, who was two at the time.

There was electricity at the Park so we loaded the truck with most of the comforts of home including my electric coffee pot, one of those Corning Ware things with the blue cornflower, a wedding gift of which I was especially fond because of who had given it to us.

Jim helped Bill load the camper onto the truck and then Donna and I loaded our supplies. Since all of us wouldn’t fit into one vehicle, we took our car and caravanned down U.S. 13, otherwise known as the DuPont Highway. Laurel, Delaware, about an hour away, was a straight shot. There we would turn left onto Gordy Road which would take us directly into Trap Pond.

I had been to Trap Pond before on school bus trips. I’m not sure if our bus driver was paid to do this but when the school year was over, he ferried his “kids” to Trap Pond for a day of sun, swimming, and fun as a grand finale to the school year and to kick-off summer vacation. Many other bus drivers did the same so it turned into a year-end event with most of our classmates there for the festivities. It was a beautiful park, but as a teenager that was secondary to the good times we had.

Donna’s girls wanted to set up their tents when we got there so we left that to the guys to help while Donna and I went to check out the facilities and the little store. For a camping area the bathrooms were in great shape, clean, with plenty of toilet paper, and two showers with hot water, a pleasant surprise. The site for the truck camper had electric and a fire pit but no water which meant that I would have to hoof it to the bathrooms in the morning for coffee pot water.

The girls got all their stuff settled in their tents and as the camper got cleared out, I noticed how narrow and tiny our bed actually was. Oh well, we were tiny, too, back then, and it turned out to be cozy, especially with Bill and Donna just above our heads. We yakked a lot and slept very little after playing cards and Monopoly and toasting marshmallows late into the night.

When Jim and I woke the first morning, Bill and Donna were already outside cooking breakfast over a charcoal campfire. They were old hands at this. Feeling guilty about sleeping late I hurriedly dressed and grabbed the coffee pot to make my water run to the bathrooms. Along the way, not remembering I was in a cypress swamp and still half asleep, I tripped over some tree roots and the coffee pot went flying. The pot itself wasn’t damaged at all but the little glass thingy in the lid was broken so the perking coffee needed a hand holding a paper plate over the top and even then some bubbly water escaped and ran down the sides. Eventually we had some coffee, and I had a memento of sorts of our camping trip.

Eric and Erica, our two toddlers, slept in the tents with the girls and from the looks of them in the morning, they hadn’t slept much either, but they seemed to be enjoying their babysitting duties, taking them very seriously. I watched as Deb and Pam each latched onto one of mine. Swimming was off limits unless all of us were watching.

That evening the Park was showing a kids’ movie in a big open air space with a bring-your-own chair or blanket for seating. As we settled in, a light fog descended along with droves of mosquitoes. We had brought repellent so I volunteered to go back to the campsite and get it. When I returned, everyone looked at me and said, “Where’s Eric?” I had no idea. Did he follow me? Yes, they said he was right on my heels when I left. Okay, I’ll go back and look, but there was no Eric. No Eric anywhere. And the fog was getting dense.

Jim found the Park Ranger, the movie screen blanked out, and all the people who had been watching went into action, flashlight beams thick as fireflies. Of course, my fear was the pond. Eric was a water baby just like me. Everyone searched for around fifteen minutes when Jim decided to go back to the truck campsite and look again. When he returned, Eric was in his arms, rubbing his eyes. Apparently, in my haste to get the mosquito repellent back to everyone, I had left the camper door open. Eric had climbed in, pulled a blanket off our tiny bed, and was soundly sleeping on the floor when Jim shined the flashlight inside. Everyone was so thankful Eric was okay, patting us on our backs with big smiles all around. With the fog and the mosquitoes, we all decided to do the movie another night. The kids were relieved since they had stayed up most of the night before and were just as tired as Eric.


The rest of our camping experience was uneventful, but neither Jim nor I found it to be our cup of tea so we never ventured down the camping path again. It became like many other things, a fond memory with a heart tug.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What's Been Happening?

This post is different from others. It is unstructured, free range like free range chickens, able to travel where the sparks from my mind to my fingers may take me. I've not posted for awhile and I thought this method might be incentive.

The last few days have been strange ones in that things out of the ordinary have happened. On Monday, I had an eye appointment where it is necessary to park in a parking garage. All parking garages I have been in seem to have spaces made for midget cars meaning there is barely room to open the door to exit the vehicle. But this was not the problem on Monday. I drove into a vacant space and the car immediately to my right began to back out. He must have thought my space was still vacant because he turned his wheel too soon and scraaaapppped my back door leaving a pretty good ding and lots of his white paint.

I sat there a few seconds then got out, locked my door and went around to the passenger side to look at the damage. The driver had eased away from the side of my car but was parked half in and half out of the parking spot. He was crying like nobodies' business. I should have mentioned my eye appointment was in a building that also housed a cancer center.

Now, I'm not certain but I suspected he may have had bad news or all he could take for the day because the tears would not quit and my heart just went out to him. I patted him on the shoulder and told him not to worry about it, it was not that bad. He looked at me like he couldn't believe it and thanked me profusely as I continued to try to soothe him. After a few more words of encouragement and more "thank yous", we said our goodbyes and he left. I hope he got where he was going in one piece because he was really upset.

So, today I went to see Mr. Small Dent and after showing him the damage and telling him my story, he was able to buff off all the bad scrapes and pull out most of the dent. To do a perfect job he would have needed to take off the inner door panel which involved more money and more time, but I was happy with the improvement made for $40, a bargain I thought.

Then, on Monday evening as I sat reading in my livingroom, I happened to look up and gazooks! There was a water stain on my ceiling. Where the crap did that come from? Maybe Irma? I got a ladder and touched it but it didn't seem wet so maybe it was older that I thought. I went outside and looked at the roof from the ground but could see no damage at all. After Googling roofers, I phoned and phoned and phoned with no answers, just recordings. Several called back but when I explained my problem, though they promised to come by, no one has showed up...yet. I have another promisee scheduled for tomorrow. Apparently, it is a nail pop - little time and less money and all the roofers are busy with damage from Irma. My promisee is listed under "handyman." We'll see.

...to be continued.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fetcher's Disappearance

I don't think I shared this with readers here, but I had a short story published in a recent (August 8th) Chicken Soup of the Soul book. The new book is titled Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Really Did That? and can be found here on Amazon and other places. My story is on page 93 and is titled The Cat That Wouldn't Hunt, a cat and mouse story.

The kitty I write about has, of course, passed away since my story dates in the 1980s. His name was Fetcher, and he had a very distinct personality.

Like all cats, he was king of the household, and unfortunately he tried to be king of the neighborhood. Next door lived a Siamese and a Manx (the cat with no tail). Our Fetcher tried, successfully, to bully them by eating their food (kept in their garage) and daring the two cats to attempt to eat any at all.

Their human soon noticed this behavior, and I began finding hefty items lying in my nearby yard, items like a bicycle pedal and an unusual looking rock. At first I was perplexed, but eventually I saw Fetcher in action and realized what must be happening. He was being used for target practice to deter his bullying ways.

I spoke to my neighbor about it, but she denied throwing anything at Fetcher while vehemently telling me to keep him out of her yard, sort of hard to do since he was an outdoor/indoor cat. She had a son and daughter so they could have been the missile throwers.

I tried to persuade Fetcher to discontinue his bullying ways, kept an eye on him more than usual, but time and projectiles continued. And then Fetcher disappeared.

I begged my neighbor to tell me if she had seen Fetcher, but of course she hadn't. On the chance she was telling the truth, I walked and walked the streets of our neighborhood, knocking on doors, stating my plight. Fetcher never came home, and I never saw him again.

I realize he did a bad thing by bullying her cats, but certainly not bad enough for what I think happened to him. She could easily have kept her cats' food inside as I did Fetcher's, but she was not that type of person. So I lost a loved pet, but now I have given him immortality in my published story about The Cat That Wouldn't Hunt. I still miss you, Fetcher, wherever you are.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Falling...Falling...Fallen

Yesterday morning I was drinking my coffee in the swing on the back porch and all of a sudden a squirrel's nest crashed to the ground from one of the pine trees. One little baby squirrel, which didn't even look like a squirrel but like a teeny naked mouse, rolled out onto the open grass and let out the loudest squeaks imaginable. It sounded exactly like Mopsy's squeaky mouse toy. Something to the right of the porch caught my eye and there was this cat I had never seen before. Well, of course, I shooed him away, way out of the yard. I came back to the swing to watch, hoping the mom or dad would come down to get the little squealer. He must have dropped three or four stories. I have thirteen huge pines in my back yard.

I was about to give up when, yep, here she comes, cagey at first, going up and down another tree, sniffing in the birdbath, dashing back toward the fence, each time getting a little nearer on the forward onslaught. Finally, she got to the nesting material, nosed through it, then made a mad dash to the little one, nosed him around some (I saw his legs kicking), picked him up in her mouth just like a cat picks up her young, and sprinted out of my yard with him. I watched and saw her go up one of my neighbor's trees. She said my yard was too dangerous.

Then I started wondering whether that was really one of his parents? Maybe a neighbor squirrel family witnessed the event and called the Squirrel Department of Social Services, and that is who the rescuer was. It does seem like the squirrelly parents should be charged with negligence or something. After all, four stories is nothing to sneeze at. They built inadequate housing.

Okay, enough of this nonsense. The little baby was rescued and I am happy.

Then, inspiration struck, and I got out my watercolors to paint this example of animal humanity.