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.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Uncle Nick

He rattled the pages as he searched for the sports section of the Delaware State News. Leaning back in the metal porch glider, arms held wide, his teeth clamped down on the unlit stub of a Phillies Blunt. The cigar was fireless because Aunt Sadie put her foot down about smoking in the house.

"Get rid of that stinking thing, eh!" Aunt Sadie's words are stamped on my memory.

Uncle Nick never gave up his cigars though. He just chewed them to death. They became a part of his presence after he went into the Army in 1941 when he was twenty years old.

I stayed with Aunt Sadie and Uncle Nick many summers as I was growing up. They never had any children so I guess they sort of adopted me for the months I had no school. I didn't mind. In fact, I loved it.

Uncle Nick was a movie projectionist, and there were numerous perks for me that went along with that. He even showed movies in the service, training films and first run movies to departing soldiers. He told me he was stationed at some base in New York State for the entire War because it was such an important job. He was responsible for keeping up the soldiers' morale.

When he was fourteen, he got a job as circular boy, handing out movie programs from house to house with free movie passes as pay. He sneaked up to the projection booth to learn the job. Nobody under eighteen was allowed up there at that time, but the theater owners saw that he was determined. They encouraged him with the promise of a real job as projectionist when he was old enough.

He showed his first film in 1938, a movie titled The Crusades, a Cecile B. DeMille spectacular starring Loretta Young. He never stopped until the theater finally closed its doors in 1982. He did everything from splicing film, playing the music before the show, dimming the house lights, even opening the curtain.

I know some of this firsthand because I got to sit in a special chair in front of the little window in the projection booth and watch movies. Of course, some movies I wasn't allowed to see, but that was okay. Disney films and westerns were my favorites anyway, and they came with hot salty French Fries, fountain sodas, and sometimes a Sugar Daddy for dessert. Aunt Sadie came with us once in awhile, but I think the newness of it all had worn off for her years before. And the booth reeked of cigar smoke.

When a new feature started, Uncle Nick had to go early enough to check the film for breaks. He set up a full reel on this old hand-cranking machine, fed the film onto an empty reel, and with his thumb pressing down on the film to feel for splits, he turned the crank with his other hand until all the film was loaded on the empty reel. He repaired breaks with some kind of stinky brushed on glue. Then, the reel had to be rewound to start at the beginning again. I never remember a film breaking during a show in all the times I went with him. He said he never wanted to hear those boos the audience makes when the screen goes white. A feature film came on several reels so there were two projectors for switching from one to the other. This happened almost every twenty minutes. Uncle Nick did this seamlessly without missing a beat. He showed me how to look for a little blob in the right hand corner of the screen. This was his cue to get ready. He said there could be a murder scene happening, and he had to make sure the audience never missed a shudder. Years later, as I watched Psycho I thought about Uncle Nick switching those reels in the middle of the shower scene.

Since Uncle Nick never learned to drive, Aunt Sadie always picked us up after the show. At home, he would turn on the television and watch Jack Paar for a few minutes, then channel check for a late movie. Yep, he watched movies at home. He said he never got to see the good parts because that was when he was busy changing reels.

Uncle Nick smoked Phillies Blunt cigars, but that was not the only Phillie he was fond of. He was a Philadelphia Phillies fanatic before the real Phillie Phanatic ever existed. I'm talking about the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. I watched the games with him when they were on television, and we knew every player, every position, and all their stats. We yelled and shouted at the TV screen as though the players could hear us. I am a big Phillies fan to this day, never to change. No matter how many times they let me down, I'll always be looking forward to next year.

Going to the horse races was another of Uncle Nick's favorite pastimes. He always claimed he was not superstitious, but when he won an exacta or trifecta, he would wear the same tee shirt, unwashed, back to the races the next time and the next time if it kept bringing him good luck. Sometimes it did. I remember some of those tee shirts getting holey. He was a pretty lucky fellow. He never bet a lot, but he loved to see the horses coming down the homestretch. His dark brown eyes grew animated and intense as they neared the finish line. To punish his losers, he threw his program and tickets on the ground and stomped on them. He chewed his cigar down to nothing by the last race.

When I got to tag along to the races, on the way home we always stopped at a restaurant specializing in chicken and dumplings. For dessert, we ordered rice or bread pudding, his favorites and mine, too. Oh, and I forgot to mention, he especially loved donuts and Tastycakes. A covered cake dish for these sweets held center place on Aunt Sadie's red-trimmed Formica table. Tastycake sponsored the Phillies. When their song came on during a game, that was my cue to grab two. Vanilla was the best.

When I think of Uncle Nick, I always picture him on the porch glider, reading the sports page, and chewing on that cigar. He had curly black hair and, of course, a little paunch from all those sweets. I miss him. There'll never be another one like him. He passed away in 2011, at ninety years old. I don't think anybody had as good a time at living as he did, and it rubbed off on everyone nearby. A person couldn't help but have fun with Uncle Nick around.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Another Corner



Standing in the corner was a frequent punishment in grade school when I grew up in the 1950s. Hardly anyone escaped it. This particular day it all started on our return trip from the library when I was in the fourth grade. Mrs. Quillen, my homeroom teacher, never smiled, and she wouldn’t have known what to do with a joke if it had crawled up and sat down beside her. She dressed fashionably, yet conservative would have described her tailored clothes. Her hair, though short, fell in soft waves and framed her black cat eye glasses. She asserted her authority in the classroom and expected everyone to follow her rules without exception.

Our class library excursions happened once or twice a month. Everyone lined up single file to make our way to my favorite place in the entire school. Once there, we were turned loose with admonishments of “no talking” and “conduct yourselves like ladies and gentlemen”. Of course, I never had a problem with that. I searched for books with such intensity that the passage of one hour seemed like a few minutes. When we were called to line up again to check out our books and return to our classroom, I invariably ducked in near the end of the line. Sometimes I needed a special invitation, if you know what I mean.

Now, I don’t remember liking boys in the fourth grade. At the very least, I didn’t pay much attention to them, but apparently, I had a secret admirer, an admirer who wanted to make me aware of his presence in that snaking line back to our classroom. Harold Cain (will I ever forget that name) was behind me, and as we walked back through the long hallway, he was intent on getting my attention. At first, he quietly kept saying my name, but I gritted my teeth, counted to ten, and did not encourage him by turning around. I ignored him because I knew I would be in trouble with Mrs. Quillen if I so much as uttered one syllable. With no results from name whispering, he resorted to using the only thing he had at hand. He kept tapping me on the back of my head with his library book. Tap…tap…every few steps.

At first I managed to remain calm and continue walking, thinking he would soon give up and quit, but he had the persistence of J. K. Rowling. I turned and gave him my most menacing stare. I can see him now, tall and skinny with spiked short blond hair and sporting a smug grin. High water pants, a less than white t-shirt, and a pair of grimy tennis shoes highlighted his wardrobe. He was quiet, saying nothing, but as soon as I turned around toward the front, he began again, tapping me on the back of my head with every few steps I took until I could no longer stand it.

I twisted around, swung my outstretched hand that grasped my library book, and I let him have it smack on the side of his face. Wow that felt good…for a few seconds. I heard the thunderous shout, “What’s going on back there?” Mrs. Quillen marched back in plenty of time to see a huge bright red lump appearing on Harold’s cheek. Harold, who now appeared shy, meek, quiet, and a little surprised, became the perfect victim as I sputtered angry abusive epithets to anyone who would listen.

After my outburst, Mrs. Quillen neither wanted nor allowed any explanation from me. I was to stop shouting this instant. She clearly saw the injured party and reached her own conclusion. She grabbed my arm, marched me back to the classroom amid snickers and positioned me in the far corner by the blackboard “for as long as it takes to calm down and apologize to Harold”.

I don’t remember how long it took me. It seemed like hours, maybe days, but finally, I said “sorry”, grudgingly, and Mrs. Quillen warned me never to strike another person in her class ever again, or I would be more than sorry. Harold never said anymore about it. I think he was scared of me after that, and of course, over sixty years later, being a Scorpio, I still remember his name.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Tete a Tete Instead of an Event

I went to an "author talk" today at the library and only two people showed up, the librarian who set it up and yours truly. I felt so horrible for the author, Nancy Nau Sullivan, a memoirist, which is the reason I went. Turns out, it was great. I asked all kinds of questions I never would have asked had there been a crowd, and shared things I would not have shared. Each of us was very chatty, including the librarian.

Of course, I bought her new book, The Last Cadillac, how could I not? She gave me some good tips about transitioning stories and even some advice on what might be the message of my memoir. Little light bulbs were going off in my brain like fireworks. I am so glad I went and got to meet her. It was such a shame there was no crowd, but their loss, my gain.

I haven't started her book yet since I am still slogging through Untamed by Will Harlan, our book club selection for next month's meeting. Basically, it's a "save the wilderness of Cumberland Island" book and a biography of Carol Ruckdeschel, its biggest defender. There is a little bit of story which seems repetitive to me, but I'm not finished yet so maybe things will improve. I read about her online and she continues to live there (until her death by will of the Park Service), doing her thing with sea turtles, etc. I have to admire her since she is three years older than I am, tough lady.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Dress From Hell

When my daughter was little, first grade size, I decided in order to be a good mom I should try my hand at sewing her some cute dresses. After all, I had taken home economics in high school and made myself a stylish, well-put-together jumper with the help of my teacher and a Simplicity pattern. After that success, my mom promptly bought me a portable Singer for my next birthday with only a little whining from yours truly. But then, with a few attempts at more intricate patterns, my interest waned, and the Singer was lugged from home to college to married life with very little use.

But now I had a daughter, a real live guinea pig, um, model, on which to try my brilliant sewing ability. You should know that I am not a patient person. I am also endowed with more confidence than real know-how, but no matter. When I decide something, I am ready to do it. I did not have any little-girl patterns, but I had plenty of little-girl dresses. Why not use one of them for a pattern? And material? Well, how about those pretty yellow print curtains that would not work on any of the windows where we lived now? Why take the time to shop for patterns and material when I could improvise and get started right away?

I have to say that little dress I made looked divine, on and off my daughter. No one could have done a better sewing job. It hung perfectly, I hemmed it to match the same length as its real dress pattern, and when my daughter tried it on, the fit could not have been better. I was so proud I could hardly wait for her to wear it to school the next day.

I made her stay in her jammies until after breakfast so there would be no chance of a food catastrophe at the last minute. Then I slipped my beautiful creation over her head and tied some pretty yellow ribbons in her hair. I helped with her coat so as not to muss anything, and we were on our way to Allen Frear Elementary. It was so cold but the school was close, and the car heater barely had time to warm up before we were there. At the doors, my beautifully dressed daughter hopped out and mumbled something about an itch around her neck, and I thought, oh no, not those horrible hives again. But we hadn’t had strawberries since last fall.

“It’s probably just some chapping from the cold weather, honey. Go ahead in and show everybody your new dress. Love you, Sweetie. See you in awhile.”

And I drove home, glowing in my proudness. Remember that saying, from the Bible I think, about pride coming before a fall?

Hardly an hour had passed when my phone rang.

This was my end of the conversation.

“Yes, this is her mom.”

“Yes, I did.”

“What problem?”

“I’ll be there right away.”

It seems my poor daughter was one red mass of itching from her neck to her legs. When she told her teacher I had made her a new dress from curtains, Mrs. Bickling suspected fiberglass to be the cause of the problem.

I hurried back to the school and picked up a sad-looking little girl who now had a coat on with no dress underneath. My masterful creation was stuffed in a paper bag never to be worn again.

My poor itchy daughter spent the balance of the day in a cool baking soda bath until she looked like the proverbial prune, but at least she wasn’t bright red anymore and the itching had eased. Our doctor prescribed some cream and antihistamine and by the next day, she was her normal pale blond self and back in school with a hilarious show and tell story.

I wondered why I hadn’t itched when I was making the dress, and I posed this question to our doctor. Apparently, some people are not allergic to fiberglass, and I was one of them. The only negative effect on me was damage to my pride and a quick end to my renewed interest in sewing.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Power of the Writer



If you’re a writer, do you think of yourself as powerful? Or do you think of your writing as a pastime, something to do when you have nothing else to do? Consider the following subjects as examples of the impact of writing.

First impressions

We have all heard the term applied to meeting people but how about the books you have read? James Michener comes to my mind right away. He gave me my first impressions of Alaska, Hawaii, Africa, and many more. News stories assault us almost every minute and give us first impressions on numerous topics, some true, some not. We get our first impressions on so many subjects through reading other people’s writing; it is staggering to think about.

Inspiration

I feel this term would not exist if it were not for the writer. Encouragement through inspiration leads us to further our knowledge of something that interests us. It makes us act, try something, read more, and it feeds our soul. Positive thoughts, advice, ideas…all of these come to us through inspirational writers. Inspiration means different things to different people, but if you are interested in being inspired, there is a book out there for you. And if there is not, you should write one.

Immortality

History, how would we know it without writers? Sure, someone may dig up a mastodon or a dinosaur, and we can visit a museum to see what they looked like, but if it were not for writing, why would we even be interested? We need writers to make us act. Our stories can give us immortality if we put them to words and pass those words on to readers. Some of us may think our life stories are dull and uninteresting, but there is someone out there waiting to read about us. Think how your story would interest a person living in another culture, and how it might impact them.

A Memory Bank

Alzheimer’s is prominent in the news and seems to be something in all our futures if we live long enough. Who knows what we will remember when we finally succumb to this tragedy of the mind. We can make it less of a tragedy by writing down things we remember now so those memories can be passed on to others. It does not matter your current age because we do not know what tomorrow may bring, or even if we will have a tomorrow. Journals are our memories for tomorrow. Pretty though they may be, don’t leave them blank.

Artistic Creation

How many have turned to a book to learn how to do a craft or play an instrument or paint a picture or use a camera or any number of other things. A piece of writing may have originally planted that seed in our imagination. Books always go along with how-tos. Unless we are just browsing, we search youtube videos after we have read about something that interests us. Self-help books are a multi-million dollar industry for the writer. Have you ever ordered something you had to put together. Although directions may be a last resort, I always have to go there eventually.

Engagement

I am not talking about the marrying kind, but the writing kind that captures your attention and makes you think in ways you would not have thought before. It gets you involved, stirs you to participate in some way. Do you remember the movie, The Sixth Sense? Yes, maybe it was a little far out, but engaging? You bet. It was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.  This is powerful and engaging writing, not soon forgotten. I know you can think of many other books you will never forget, even some that may have changed your life.

Persuasion

I hope this little essay I am writing will persuade you to take up or resume the practice of writing. Through rhetoric, I have offered reasons to write, appealed to your emotions, given examples, used metaphors, and many other writing techniques to sway your thought process to this end. If you have ever written a letter of complaint, you know what persuasive writing is. Op ed pieces fit in this category, too.



Writing is a powerful force in today’s world, and you hold that power in your fingers and in your mind. Share it. I may be one little dot in the universe (Carl Sagan’s Cosmos), but I have the power to decide if anyone remembers me when my little dot floats away. You have that power, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How To Write A Review

I am a member of an online writing site, which I dearly love, and from time to time I participate in helping judge site contests. All the judges are required to review each entry submitted, and I thought I would devote this post to my review method.

In order for a review to be effective, that is, constructively received, it must be balanced, not all good and not all bad. All of either one will negatively impact the writer. No one is perfect and no one is all bad; we all know that. So, how do I get that balance?

First, I read the story as a reader, looking for something that will hold my attention. This first read is usually a quick one, unless I stumble around, bumping into glaring mistakes.

After the quick read, I start looking for plot, characters, conflict, resolution and possibly a theme. Then, I make a point of answering these questions:

  • How did it make me feel? What emotions were invoked?


  • Can I relate to it? Have I had similar experiences?


  • Is it believable? Even sci-fi and fantasy must be believable.


  • Does the dialogue flow easily? Can I hear it? Does each character sound like he should?


  • Is there a time period mentioned? How about a place? And setting?


  • Did anything in particular stand out or especially draw my interest?


  • Is there anything in the story I would change if I were writing it?


  • What was memorable about the story, something I might think about later?

I also like to scatter a few relevant emoticons throughout my reviews for attention, for color, or to get a point across. They help lighten the atmosphere.

I always begin and end with a few words of sincere encouragement, and I stress that the review is my opinion and meant to be helpful.

I hope something in this post will help you review others and perhaps allow you to receive helpful reviews with the intent in which they are given.