Saturday, December 29, 2007
My grief is well in check, my vacation over and the nasty crud from which I've been suffering has abated enough to clear my mind and allow me to think rationally again. So, here are the 3 things in writing that are essential to me.
Whether fiction or non, if you're writing about a place millions of people know about and have visited - be accurate. If you're not sure of your facts, either do some research on the internet or just go there and see things for yourself. Otherwise, write about someplace else or make a place up because you will immediately lose credibility with those of us who live in a place if you can't write about it factually.
Write from your heart and from your own experience. If you're writing something you haven't experienced, talk to someone who has and question them in depth. It's difficult to have empathy or sympathy for characters who aren't well drawn and truly invested in the story.
Don't be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone or to tackle sensitive subjects or situations, but don't just do it to be sensational. Do it with intent - to educate and enlighten.
As for whom I would give the award to, most of them already have it and it was well deserved. If I could give it to one more person it would be our beloved Miss Snark who through her powerful words and sage advice brought most of us together and educated and enlightened us n the business of writing.
Come back Miss Snark. We miss you!
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Hugs to you all!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
12/21/07 - I came home to a mountain of mail, papers and laundry and to work to a mountain of paperwork and projects that - of course - couldn't be completed by anyone but me. Oh, well - it's nice to feel necessary. As soon as I dig out from under all the piles and download my pictures I'll tell you about the trip. Basically, it was wonderful.
I did have one epiphany: I don't dislike my mother because of who she is, but because she wasn't who I wanted her to be. Will explain later.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
At age seven or eight my Aunt Alice took me to Chicago on the train. It was a long trip because we stopped at every tiny little town along the 375-mile route. When we got there, we had to take the commuter train out to her friend’s house. I really wanted to hold on to the strap like all the other commuters so she let me stand on her suitcase in order to reach it and I felt so grown up. I ended up swinging from the strap a couple of times when the train made sudden moves that swept me off the suitcase. It sent me flying through the air holding on to that strap for dear life while my aunt and the other passengers laughed and put me back into a more stable position.
We also took the train down to Florida a couple of times to visit our relatives That was incredibly exciting because it was an overnight trip and by the time we got back from dinner in the dining car, our car had been transformed into a sleeping car with upper and lower berths. I got to sleep in the upper berth and vividly remember hearing the commotion as the train switched tracks in Birmingham to head east to Florida. I didn’t care about visiting the relatives. I just wanted to ride the train.
Going to the movies was a real adventure – in the summer at the local drive-in and the rest of the year at the theater in town. My favorites were romantic comedies, musicals, science fiction and Westerns. And of course, I loved the cartoons. It wasn’t all good though. “Bambi” totally traumatized me and I was so terrified by “Psycho” and “Murders at the Rue Morgue” I haven’t been able to go to a horror movie since. The few times friends tried to drag me to them, I spent the entire movie with my shirt over my head and my fingers in my ears, and once even managed to stay in the bathroom for all but the first 5 minutes. I’ve found this usually prevents them from asking me to go again.
I was a cheerleader in junior high, probably because we lived next door to the cheerleader coach and she took pity on me because of my shyness. I was pretty athletic, so the adults in my life figured this would be a good way to get me some exposure and build my confidence. I was also in the band - the bell lyre and my older sister played the drums because Dad didn’t think it was ladylike to march down the street with your cheeks puffed out and he would not allow his girls to do that.
My Dad got his pilots license and purchased a Cessna 182. Sometimes in the summer he would fly us to North Carolina to see Mom’s relatives or take us on various day trips. Occasionally I sat in the co-pilots seat and he would let me take over the controls – with his complete assistance of course. It was quite an adventure and I loved to fly and wanted to be a pilot when I grew up – among other things.
I learned how to drive in the fall when I turned eleven. It wasn’t an official lesson but it made a lasting impression. My Aunt Alice, who also had a vivid imagination (she was a high school speech and drama teacher in her small town) and had lead what seemed to me to be an exciting life, took me out into the local fields and back roads in her big old Pontiac. She put me in the driver’s seat and sat as close to me as possible – just in case – and away we went speeding through those back roads and fields, laughing all the way. We floored the gas pedal throwing dirt and gravel everywhere, then stomped on the brake leaving tire tracks and divots everywhere.
I was a tall and lanky girl and could just reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel. Fortunately there were no cows in the fields that day. She made me promise never to tell anyone and I kept that promise for over 40 years. Keeping secrets became a specialty of mine.
Then one day I came home to find my mom chasing my dad through the house with a tennis racquet, yelling and screaming at him. My idyllic youth ended in an explosion of emotion, the residue of which covered me with anger, distrust and sadness for years.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
We slept in tent cabins with communal bathrooms and sometimes we peed in the woods. It was very exciting. We went canoeing, rowing, hiking and swimming and learned archery, crafts, shooting and survival skills. We ate all our meals in the big old dining hall and the food was delicious – or at least we thought it was. In the evenings there were big campfires and everyone sat around singing songs like Kumbaya or silly rounds like Kookaburra.
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree.
Merry, merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be.
It was a really fun way to spend the summer and I was always sorry to see it end. I wasn’t one of those kids who missed being home.
My friend Libby lived close by. There were two ways to get to her house; either the long way using the streets, or the shortcut through the little vale between our houses. At first the shortcut seemed really scary. There was a tiny little path and it was usually overgrown with weeds and bushes. There were snakes everywhere in Southern Illinois, including three poisonous kinds – rattlers, copperheads and water moccasins. I hated snakes, so I would run as fast as I could through the shortcut to her house. When it was getting dark, I took the long way home. It probably added three or four more minutes to the trip. (It was a very small town)
For some reason, there was a breeze down in the little vale. When the breeze was strong enough, I used to jump into it and pretend I was flying. Being tall and skinny, I was fairly lightweight and could ride the wind forever, although in reality it was probably only a second or two. I thought I could fly, so undeterred I just kept jumping.
Our elementary school was a typical 2 story brick building with a big central hall and stairway. There were 4 classrooms on each floor – first and second grade on the first floor and third and fourth grade on the second floor. Because of the baby boomers, they put an addition on the school that included 2 large classrooms - one for kindergarten and one for fifth grade. The auditorium/basketball court (which doubled as the lunchroom) was also in the addition.
In elementary school I was a fairly good student although today they would probably diagnose attention deficit disorder because I was often bored and restless. I had one teacher in particular I really liked, Mrs. McLain. I thought she was wonderful and always wanted to do the best for her. I used to gather up bunches of wildflowers – or flowers from my Mom’s beds or the neighbor’s beds – and leave them anonymously on her doorstep. Everyone was within easy walking distance in our town.
In third grade I was having trouble seeing and they diagnosed me with a lazy right eye. That meant glasses and weekly sessions at the eye doctor looking into machines that made funny patterns purported to make my eye more energetic. The doctor thought that may have been why I was always walking into things like poles and trees. I had lots of goose eggs on my forehead. I personally always thought it was because I simply wasn’t paying attention.
I had a great memory and learning by rote was popular then, so anything requiring memorization – like the times tables – was easy. Square dancing was big in our area and callers were always needed. I quickly learned the songs and steps and became a first class caller. My favorite dance was to the tune of “Honeycomb”.
My Mom and Dad were very social people. Dad was usually either working or playing golf. Mom was a full time homemaker. When I started Kindergarten, she returned to school to get her college degree. When she wasn’t at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, 21 miles away, she spent her free time either playing golf or playing bridge with her friends. Our family had dinner together almost every night and when my parents weren’t home we always had a housekeeper to look after us. We weren’t rich but we didn’t lack for anything and we were well cared for.
PS. Thanks Church Lady for the award.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
It was safe for us to wander around. You could walk almost anywhere cutting through the fields and your neighbors’ yards and never worry. There were very few fences. If we wandered too far, someone would invariably call our parents and let them know where we were in case they were looking for us. Mom never locked her car. In fact, she never even took the keys out of it. It would sit in front of the house or a store unlocked with the windows down and the keys in the ignition, and no one ever touched it.
As a child growing up in this environment, my existence was uncomplicated and uncluttered. I was a plain little girl, living in a protective bubble in my small, rural town. Life was simple and carefree. I didn’t have to worry about anything and I was free to let my imagination carry me away.
I devoured Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books and anything else I could read. I spent hours in the library reading and at night under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep. The three television channels we got from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Paducah, Kentucky and Harrisburg, Illinois fascinated me. I was always disappointed when 10:30 rolled around and the National Anthem played and the test pattern appeared. I grew up on Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton, I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriett, Father Knows Best, Captain Kangaroo, The Honeymooners and all the other wonderful shows of the 50’s.
I loved the game shows. One of my favorites was Video Village. It used the contestants as tokens on the three streets of the village and was interactive and fun. I was so enthralled with it I even built my own set – laying out the streets using a roll of butcher paper Mom had for wrapping packages. I memorized the whole show and could play it for hours.
Most of our radio stations were small and played country music with lots of talk and local news. But at night when everything was still, you could get the rock and roll stations from St. Louis 100 miles away. Rock and roll was taboo at first, but gradually it was accepted, especially after Elvis appeared on Ed Sullivan.
We had a party line on the phone, our number was 998-W and our neighbors’ number was 998-R. That sometimes made life interesting unless my Mom caught me listening in on their conversations. My Dad owned a local car dealership at the time and his phone number at work was 405. But when I wanted to talk to him, I just picked up the phone and told the operator that I wanted to talk to my Daddy and she connected me without even asking who I was. It was like magic to me. I thought that was how everyone lived.
Occasionally something really special would happen. The Circus came to town and we got to see all the lions, tigers, bears and elephants up close. We would watch the performers and dream of the day when we would join the circus and go on tour as famous acts with our faces on posters – thrilling the crowds.
Once the Harlem Globetrotters came and performed at the local high school. I actually got to see Meadowlark Lemon and his teammates put on a very funny show and soundly beat the other team. It was incredibly exciting and everyone in town talked about it for months.
There are so many little memories that stick in my mind from childhood. They’re odd flashbacks of things that made me happy. For instance, I was a frustrated architect at heart. Not only did I design and draw houses, almost always in odd shapes, but when the lawn was cut I would take the grass clippings and use them to form outlines of houses – like looking at a giant floor plan. Then my friends and I would assume various roles and pretend we were a family living in the grass house. If one of us got mad at the others for something, we would just kick the ‘walls’ of the house and send the grass clippings flying everywhere. That would signal the end of playing for that day.
My older sister’s best friend had a trapeze hanging from a huge old tree in her back yard. We used to love to go over there and practice being trapeze artists – pretending we were in the circus and wowing the crowds, preparing for when they came back to town and were looking for replacement performers. I always wanted to be a star and would practice posing as I was hanging upside down at some odd angle.
We had a corner grocery store down the street from home – just a little place. We always went there for candy and ice cream bars. They had all the wonderful penny candies in jars and a nickel or dime would buy enough tiny soda bottles or candy lips to keep us happy for hours. To look really cool, we would buy packs of candy cigarettes and pretend we were sophisticated and grown up like movie stars. Almost all the grown-ups and teenagers smoked back then. If we didn’t have any money, they just put it on our account and either we paid the next time we were in or our parents paid.
Mom wanted us to be exposed to culture and expand our horizons, so we took both piano and dance lessons. I hated the piano lessons because of all the practicing. Doing the same things over and over was not my idea of being creative and fun. I thought it was boring. Even today I can’t tell what key anything is in. I always describe it based on how many sharp or flat signs there are in the clefs. “It’s in the key of three sharps or four flats”. My accompanists always seem to know what I’m talking about.
Dancing was okay because at least I was moving around. I took tap and ballet. Tap was fun and reminiscent of the wonderful movie musicals I so loved like “Singin’ In the Rain”. We had recitals and my mother would dress my older sister and me up in matching costumes and we would perform to the polite applause of all the other parents whose children were also exhibiting their skills or lack thereof.
Ballet was a bit harder to incorporate into my fantasy life. They didn’t show ballets on TV and it was really rare for a ballet troupe to perform in Southern Illinois. One thing the ballet teacher emphasized was flexibility. She would have you lie on your back on the mat and have someone hold down one leg while she stretched the other one back to your head.
The first time I saw this, it looked really painful. I was sitting on a window sill and when it was my turn to be stretched, I was so adamant about not doing it I actually pressed into the window so hard I broke it! That scared me more than the stretching. After Mom assured the teacher she would pay for the window, I submitted. Being stretched was the price I paid for breaking that window. To this day I can still lean over with my legs straight and touch the ground with my palms. I am physically flexible.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Yes, it's an outdoor tree, but I have almost 300 ornaments (not including all the glass balls no longer used) and this tree allows me to see them all without having to walk around it. None of them are hidden or forgotten. I've been collecting them since my first apartment in 1970 so pulling out the ornaments brings back a flood of memories. That coupled with a large (for Seattle) snowstorm yesterday has reminded me of a much simpler time in my life.
I was born in a very small town in rural Southern Illinois in what had once been referred to as Bloody Williamson County. It had been the scene of violence, massacres, KKK activities and gangster wars from the late 1800’s through the 1920’s. Fortunately things were peaceful by the time I arrived, but the façade of the hospital still bore scars of the many bullets fired at it during one particularly nasty siege. I wasn’t supposed to be born there, but the hospital in the town where my parents lived burned down three weeks before my older sister was born and it took a while to rebuild things there.
I started out as part of a traditional post-war family. My parents met during World War II. My mother was from North Carolina and my father from Southern Illinois. By the end of the war they were both Captains in the Army. I’m a baby boomer – the second of three girls.
When I was 6 months old, we moved to another small Southern Illinois town - 25 miles from the Mississippi river, 30 miles from the Ohio River, situated in the rolling foothills of the Ozarks with forests and lakes everywhere. At 4,400 people we were one of the bigger towns in the area. Our claims to fame were the state mental hospital and the Bunny Bread factory.
In the spring the countryside was a plethora of color. The acres of budding apple and peach orchards were breathtaking. The fragrance of their lovely pink and white blossoms filled the air and promised delicious fruit in the fall. Wildflowers grew everywhere and fields of happy daffodils greeted you. It was a wonderful time of year.
Summers were incredibly hot and humid. We were lucky because we had huge trees to shade the house and a window-mounted air conditioner. When we were home, we pulled down the shades on the sunny side of the house, closed all the windows and doors and let that sucker run on high. For cooler days or nights, we had a big attic fan to keep the air circulating. But we were used to the conditions so the weather never stopped us from living our daily lives.
Tornados were very common during the summer. You always knew when they were coming because everything would get deathly silent - the birds wouldn’t sing and the air would be absolutely still. Like clockwork, the sirens blared and we would run out into the fields and watch the funnel clouds go by on their way to strike one of the neighboring towns. For some reason they never hit us, so as kids we didn’t worry about them. Even so, during the school year we had tornado drills where we would all go into the hallways and duck and cover.
Late summer was the time to harvest the orchards. The peaches in Southern Illinois seemed sweeter and juicier than anywhere else in the world. We would stop at the roadside stands and buy baskets of them and the owners always gave us samples. Then we would have delicious peach pies or cobblers. Sometimes we would can or freeze them to be enjoyed later. Because we had orchards close to our house, I always managed to sneak in and eat my fill of peaches straight from the trees. They were and still are my favorite fruit.
This was also the time for the county fair – a very big event in our town. There were rides, animals, exhibits, demolition derbies, trotting races, entertainment and lots of good food and events to keep everyone’s minds off the impending start of the new school year. By fair standards, this was a very small one, but it sure seemed big to us when we were growing up.
Autumn was always beautiful. We had lots of deciduous trees that turned brilliant colors. When the leaves fell off, we would rake them into huge piles then run and jump on them like they were gigantic pillows. Autumn was always my favorite because my birthday was in early October. I was just under the cutoff for school, thus always one of the youngest in my class. I started Kindergarten when I was four.
Winters were usually mild. On the extremely rare occasions when it did snow, we would pull out our rusty sleds or cardboard boxes and go hurtling down the hills and then build snowmen before it had a chance to melt. That usually only lasted a few days. Everything stopped when it snowed because it was such a rare occurrence and there was no equipment to clear the roads.
Today in Seattle reminds me of those Southern Illinois snowstorms - a big dump of snow followed by a quick thaw and melting - gone in the blink of an eye. Here - as there - few know how to drive in it, either going too fast or too slow and both creating hazards. But it is beautiful to watch from my window.