Amy Abbott

May 162022
 

May 16, 2022 — A few minutes ago, I saw Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General, state on CNN that more than 100 people were killed in shootings across the country over the weekend.

I am sick to death about every death.

I am sick to death that our black brothers and sisters must be constantly under attack for their color.  I am sick that hate has persisted across four centuries in this country where we are all from other places, except the Native Americans.

I am sick to death that a man who was a Buffalo police officer for many years died as a grocery security guard, protecting other people.

I am sick to death that a teenager (hospitalized a year ago when he made a murder-suicide threat at his high school) could procure the weaponry and armor for a terrorist-style attack on a grocery store. I am sick to death of people saying it’s not about the guns.

I am sick to death that these shootings will cause people to buy more guns, and more ammunition and stack them neatly in their homes, awaiting Armageddon.

I am sick of repeating every trope every time this happens.  Nothing changes. It’s always somebody else’s problem. When people are interviewed after a shooting that has taken their loved one, they always say, “I didn’t think it would happen to my family.”

We are the only country that has this many shootings. Why is that?  Because we allow the everyday person to own military-style guns. Do you think the second amendment meant that every person should be able to own an AR-15?  Why not give every citizen a musket and musket balls? Would that be more in the spirit and times of the second amendment?

Don’t tell me that my stance means I’m against all guns. I’m not — I grew up and live in farm country. People feed their families by hunting; some do it for sport. Sometimes people even shoot an errant snake. And some believe they need guns for protection.

From “The Street” one hour ago, “A mass shooting occurs, the news covers it, calls for gun control or reform grow louder for a while, nothing of impact happens legislatively, the country forgets about shootings until the next big one.

Anyone paying attention can see that pattern and there are plenty of examples to choose from.

This year there have been 202 mass shootings — shootings with 4 or more victims other than the gunman — and nine mass murders in the U.S., according to gun control advocacy group Gun Violence Archive.”

But no one — and I mean no one — who is not in a military conflict needs an automatic rifle.

Why do people insist on lumping all guns together?  And why do gun sales continue to climb while Congress has no consideration for any sensible gun laws? I gave up after a nutjob blasted into an elementary school and killed a classroom full of innocents. I knew there would never be any change

But they are all innocents. The finger of blame can go many places, and it rests firmly on the shoulders of every person who defends all guns in this country.  Or the person who allows for racism is behind many of these attacks.  I am an immigrant just like African Americans, though my ancestors weren’t forced to come to this country against their will and be enslaved. We owe them a debt—black lives matter.

And there is also blame to go to the media (Tucker Carlson et al.) and social media for fomenting hate speech. But, frankly, without access to guns with large magazines and tactical gear, there would be far fewer deaths. This is not a red herring, it is the gospel truth.

When churches and grocery stores aren’t safe, no place is safe. Our country has always experienced violence, from the wild west to the lynching and riots.  We are a hateful people made worse with the present of weapons that can bring down an armed security guard, just doing his job, in a minute. I am enraged. When will we ever learn?

 

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

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Mar 282022
 
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Elizabeth Taylor at the Academy Awards

March 28, 2022 — All anyone can talk about today is Will Smith’s reaction to a joke in poor taste told by Chris Rock on the Academy Awards stage last night. It’s so hard for me to imagine that almost everyone in the media has overlooked the big, and I mean the big story of the night. The proliferation of the Side Boob.

When it comes to body and fashion, mostly I got nothing. God did not gift me good looks, and my penchant for penny candy has made me larger than life in several ways. But when it comes to cleavage, baby, I’m number one. (Rather number 42DD.)  I don’t care if it is a memorial service for Wendell Willkie or the circus coming to town; there will be a lovely décolleté showing if I have to dress up.  When you got it, flaunt it. When it’s all you got, flaunt it greatly. And I have noticed a few male eyes looking at my boobal region when I take the girls out for a fancy event.

My husband was a low-budget wedding photographer for a 1986 ceremony where I served as a bridesmaid. The girls were so young and perky, still not thirty, and always up for a test drive. The bride chose hot pink gowns for her maids, with a neckline somewhere south of Patagonia. Let’s put it this way: I was a standout in the crowd.  The girls were still poised, proud, happy, and seriously upright.

When the many rolls of pictures came back from the drug store, my chest featured prominently in many of the photographs. It was a little bit too obvious. That marriage where I was a bridesmaid and he the photographer didn’t last.  I wonder if that had anything to do with it.

On the Oscar stage last night, the three hilarious co-hosts came out at the show’s beginning, and sure enough, Amy Schumer presented herself with something beyond cleavage, like grapefruit in a transparent grocery bag. She’s hilarious, but lemme tell you; she needs wires like the Roebling Brothers used for the Brooklyn Bridge.  The Side Boob is not a good look for her, but she could rock cleavage.

And I swear I saw some nipple on one of the Williams sisters. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but if I see some cleavage, I would just as soon as the nipples do not show.  Wardrobe malfunction, indeed.

After watching the boobs trot out for an hour, we changed the channel to watch “The Weakest Link” and missed the most exciting adventure on the stage since a streaker ran behind David Niven.  I saw that one life, long ago, in a world where we all went to the theater and enjoyed films together. We ate popcorn with too much butter and our feet stuck to sticky floors.

That was a long time ago, but I remember the streaker.  He bared his nipples, but that wasn’t anyone’s most enduring memory. What I remember and indeed others do as well is what Niven said,

“But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

Girls, if you’ve got it, flaunt up, but do it the old-fashioned way with wires and pulleys like your grandmother did.

Mar 252022
 

From the collection of my grandmother and her two sisters. Abt. 1919

July 17, 2021 — My book is finished. Now, my office is a complete mess, a space that looks like Dorothy Gale’s house during the Kansas tornado.  My office is usually a mess, but after 29 months of slavish devotion to one project, it is worse than usual.  I am not Marie Kondo.  There will only be the appearance of clean and organized, not the actual state of clean and organized.

Victrola, anyone? There are many things I need to do, and probably, the most important is decide what I’m going to donate to various museums, societies, and libraries out of the family stuff I’ve worked with for the book.  I have been unable to convince my son, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in a city, that he needs Great-Great-Grandfather Long’s walnut library table or the 1918 Victrola and all the records.  Imagine what fun he could have at parties with the greatest hits of the 1920s?  He isn’t buying it, either.

And the deeds.  Stacks and stacks of legal documents that relate to the farm sit on a table near me. I will give those to the historical society. These documents contain much beyond what one would expect.  Attached affadavits  prove that Person X knew Person Y.  I just picked one off the top and started reading and was immediately immersed into a property dispute from 1857.  I did not recognize one name; this likely means it was attached to the history of a property that someone in my family bought a century later.  For a history nerd, it is fascinating reading.  I moved the table the documents rest upon, giving the impression in Zoom calls that the space is much more organized than it is.  The table is out of camera sight.

Compact discs.  Yes, some people still use them.  I’ve never been a slave to convention, so I don’t necessarily think that a Journey CD must go into a Journey jewel case.  This drives my husband crazy (librarian that he is.)  In our basement, we have a special place for CDs, and they are in order.  I mean, THEY ARE IN ORDER.

I just opened my CD player and found “Christmas Serenity.”  The jewel case it came out of was for the Broadway version of “I Do, I Do.”  I do not see any problem.  When you live this way, life is filled with delightful surprises.  My “Keely Smith Sings Sinatra” CD jewel case has Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos” inside  Patsy Cline’s “Greatest Hits” jewel case features the 2009 Spanish-language version of “West Side Story” from Broadway.  I’m Crazy.  I Feel Pretty.  It’s all good unless you insist on perfect order.

Random Books.  We have books in almost every room in our house.  There are some books I want close to me, where I spend most of my day.  Do you feel this about your books?  Do you need to have them close to you?  On my desk, I have an AP Stylebook, a Webster’s word speller (from 1975), Mark Twain’s Quotations, my address book, Poems for Boys and Girls by Helen Ferris, the programs from the last few Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshops, the books I’ve written, and Birds of Indiana.

Close by are my history books, other poetry books, a Bible with a red leatherette cover, and writing books. Always open on my desk is Simple Abundance by Sarah ban Brathwaite.  I need to have these books near me, and I need to see the other books.  You will have to pry these books from my cold, dead hands, to paraphrase Charlton Heston.

Notecards, pens, journals and paper.  Not so long ago, people used to send mail.  This involved various kinds of paper, notecards, etc., as well as a writing instrument.  I took pride in this old-fashioned hobby.  I still have a few pen pals, believe it or not.  The rest of the world wants to send me a message on text, which I can barely see and have to decipher.  “Will I c u soon?”  Having not moved into this century, I still have many notecards, pens, journals, and paper.  I still have a manual typewriter that works perfectly well.  In Pat Frank’s iconic post-apocolyptic novel of the 1950s, Alas, Babylon, a small Florida town copes with life after a nuclear blast.  In this world without electricity, the two most important people in town are the newspaper reporter and the librarian.  The newspaper reporter has a manual press and can reproduce information, and the librarian has books with knowledge and information about most anything needed by those remaining.  When the big one falls, I’ll be huddled in my closet with my typewriter and extra ribbons, my books of poetry, and enough pen refills to last a millineum.

 

 

Mar 072022
 

March 7, 2022 — My paternal grandfather died when my dad was four years old, on June 1, 1934. I know very little about him, although I heard the following story from my grandmother, and it has been passed down for a good reason. Grandpa McVay walked and talked in his sleep. On his wedding night in January 1910, my grandmother woke up to find her new husband missing from the bed. She searched the house, and he was nowhere to be found. Upset, she dressed and went to a neighbor’s house to help find her missing husband.

The neighbor came back with her sheepish husband ten minutes later.  Grandpa had fallen asleep, or sleepwalked, to the outhouse where he was discovered. The picture in my mind from this story has him wearing a raccoon coat, but this may be a detail added by my imagination.

Copyright. Health Conditions.

Many members of my family have experienced sleep talking and sleepwalking.  My brother was particularly agile at the sport.  While sleeping in the State Fair barn near his livestock (as was the customer for 4-Hers and may still be), he would get up and walk all over the barn. Someone found him, led him back to his cot, and covered him with a gate so he couldn’t get up.  He was ten years old.

To this day, I’ve been known to carry on entire conversations while sound asleep.  One day last week, I got up very early and went out into the living room to read the paper. I fell back asleep, and my broker called me at a reasonable hour. All I remember is that he called the words “seven percent.”  Unfortunately, we all know that was a declining, not an increasing number, which brings me to the topic of bad dreams.

I will often have a true nightmare, but my dreams are primarily funny little plays of my subconscious.

When I woke up this morning, I immediately remembered a lulu and wrote it down.

My niece will have a baby in June, and her shower, a large affair, is this weekend. She’s registered for several items at an online baby site which I looked at yesterday.

In the dream, her shower takes place in my dorm room circa 1978. The shower is over, and everyone is gone except my husband and me (we’re both our present age) and my father, who is his 1978 age.  We are tasked with taking all the presents and putting them in my car, a 1971 Cutlass parked blocks away. I’m sure this is a throwback to my moving in and out of the dorm. This process involved walking from the car blocks away (very little student parking), going to the main entrance of the dorm and waiting for one of two very crowded elevators (because of Moving Day), rising to the sixth floor, and walking through the lobby of televisions, game tables, etc. to a stairwell at the opposite end, going up two flights of stairs and turning right to my room.  And reverse the process to take things to the car.

This is a labor-intensive event in the dream, and we do it repeatedly.  And as it was most move-in and move-out days, it was steamy hot. We finally finish, and senior citizens Amy and Randy, and middle-aged Bill collapse on the dorm room furniture.  Then my brother and his girlfriend show up, stand in the doorway, and look around.  My brother says, “Wow, wouldn’t this be a great place to go for a vacation?”

At least I woke up laughing.  I have no intention of spending my first post-pandemic vacation in Room 714  of Hurlbut Hall.  Been there, done that.

Feb 252022
 

February 25, 2022 — I did not get today’s Wordle, and I’m horrified. Wordle has become a happy part of my day, and I’ve enthusiastically played every day. My supreme triumph was getting “bloke” in two!  My first guess had two letters in the appropriate places–sheer luck, I guess.

Not so much today. My first two words had no clues at all. Ten letters in two lines stared me in the face. I eliminated all vowels, except for “I” on the third, fourth, and fifth lines. I had a few constants left, X, Z, N, K, V, and D.

I could not get there, so I put the puzzle away, hoping a breather would jog something in my brain.

Copyright New York Times 2022

I went back to the puzzle, and the solution, for me, didn’t appear. If you have completed the puzzle today, you know it had a double vowel and a double constant. My husband got it in four.  But he always beats me at anything involving words (and our son usually beats him, an event in which I feel a strange sort of pride.)

Here’s the lesson: my assumption about the game held me back. I did not get the puzzle because I assumed there could not be two vowels and two constants. And I’m not sure this bias was in my conscious but more deeply held. And that’s nuts. That may be the definition of inherent bias, so deep we don’t know it is there.

A couple of hours later, something happened that wholly reinforced Wordle’s situation and made me truly understand the lesson. I’m taking an online class from a national provider of writing classes. I’m in the eighth week of a 10-week class, and I’ve been frustrated because the instructor’s comments have mostly been without substance.

What’s the cliche?  Don’t always ask for what you want? I got a critique back that had valuable and critical information. Of course, I immediately went to that place most writers go — The I am a Fraud Zone.  Have you been there?  It’s crowded.

But I got on the other side of it because I realized a mistake I made came from a long-held bias. It was precisely like the Wordle — yet time and time again, I’ve let it go.  It took this voice of authority to get through my thick skull.

Writing is an activity that I adore, but I’ve learned that I adore editing more over the years. The great thing about my revelation today is that I can still learn and am willing to put it into practice. And just like with Wordle, that’s how we get better. It makes me wonder what else is hiding beneath the surface that I need to address.

 

-30-

Pray for Ukraine.

 

Jan 302022
 

January 30, 2022 –I had a vision in the Before Times. When my spouse and I retired, we would spend weeks, if not months, somewhere warm during cold and damp winters. That has not happened. I admit I am somewhere warm; I’m in my office chair. Every. Single. Day. Other visions I’ve had included working at “The New Yorker” while living in Paris. I’ve subscribed to “The New Yorker,” and I’ve been to Paris. Twice. Life is filled with such compromises. I’ve also envisioned life with a younger Robert Redford, the “An Affair to Remember” version of Cary Grant and his not-by-birth son George Clooney, though not at the same time. And it goes without saying, Idris Elba.

(I have no complaints in the Spouse Department. First, Beloved Spouse is the funniest man who ever lived. Ask anybody. Second, anyone who knows me knows that my Drug of Choice is Sugar. My diabetic husband — who shops for our groceries —  brings me Cherry Tootsie pops. That’s love and devotion.)

But Mother Nature is in charge. No warm winters for us. We’re now in the beginning/middle/ending of a Great Pandemic that has likely changed the world in more ways than we can now comprehend. So, two years after it began, we are at home.

My Significant Other has his own man-cave space in the basement, so we are able to co-exist without killing each other. However, 90 percent of our conversation is “Whaaaaatttt?” Each thinks the other needs a hearing aid, and well, getting a hearing aid would involve going out in public. Which we rarely do.

Red-bellied woodpecker eating at kitchen ledge cylinder

As for me, I rise somewhere between 8 a.m. and “Jeopardy.” Then I piddle the day away. First, I make a cup of coffee and do the daily Wordle (a new, pleasant, and unstressful activity). Next, I read my local morning newspaper online complaining about the poor quality of proofreading and typesetting to Said Spouse. Then I read my other subscriptions, about which I do not complain except for the occasional rant about the content. (Recent rants include: why Eastern Europe doesn’t need World War III, why did Amy Schneider bet so poorly in game 40 of “Jeopardy” and lose, and why the news coverage for replacing a minority SCOTUS judge is so over-the-top? Do the math! Don’t even get me started on that one.) Finally, I check my texts and emails, and I’m ready for breakfast, either Cheerios and milk or a bagel and cream cheese.

I head to my office by late morning, where I spend most of the day looking at birds at feeders on our deck. I never intended to be that person–the one who talks about birds constantly. Nevertheless, that’s what has evolved. First, there was one tube feeder, then two, one with safflower seeds, and one with niger. Then a see-through acrylic feeder for the window. Finally, I added two-cylinder feeders this year and stuck a cylinder on the kitchen window ledge.

I’ve never really been that interested in birdwatching, but I started feeding on our deck four or five years ago. As my health and the pandemic keep me at home, I’ve found watching birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors incredibly entertaining. Their tiny features are so endearing, and their behaviors are so weird. For example, have you ever seen a Northern Cardinal feed a mate? It’s amazing.

During my youth and working years, I had a songbird’s constant motion and chaos. But this is me now: picture a sloth hanging on a tree in the Dominican Republic, except that this sloth has funky fun purple cat-eye bifocals, a black T-shirt with a picture of the Cheshire cat, or Edgar Allen Poe, pink yoga pants, and red slip-on Sketchers. I dropped the business jackets, blouses, scarves, black dress pants, and leather flats when I retired. Instead, I willingly moved to stylish activewear that matched. Then, I paid attention to my glasses, earrings, socks, and shoes being the same or a complimentary color to my top and pants. Now I don’t care. And I’ve taken an odd turn and pride myself in wearing at least three uncoordinated colors if I’m not leaving home. What does my husband think, you ask? He’s the one who wears a baseball hat in the house, plaid pajama bottoms, and a 1960s vintage cardigan like some situation-comedy dad.

And imagine if the birds could comment on me?

Said the nuthatch to the Northern flicker,

“Have you seen the Midwestern Pale White Fogey with the red feet and black breast?

How does she support her large apple-shaped middle with those skinny legs? 

And why does she stare at us for hours upon hours?”

I welcomed the slowing speed of my life when I retired and didn’t have to be somewhere before dawn five days a week. But I think there’s supposed to be something between Warp Speed and not knowing or caring What Day it Is. (For the record, my Beloved bought me a digital clock that gives the time and day in large, easy-to-read, high contrast letters. The clock was advertised, “For the sloth-like woman with a macular hole in one eye, and glaucoma in the other.”  My Beloved Spouse knew it was the perfect gift for me.

Many people do not have the gift of free time that I’ve been given. So, despite my binge-watching “The Real Woodpecker Wives of Indiana” and “Sex and the Single Tufted Titmouse,” I do have some actual work within the sloth milieu. For example, I serve on my church council. This often involves spending ten minutes of each Zoom meeting figuring out if my mute and video are on or off.

And like bad cable, there’s always a bird show.

-30-

 

Disclaimer: I must note that I am very grateful to have a loving and hilarious spouse, a warm home, a healthy adult child, other family members and friends who love and support me, and the gift of retirement. (You have to love a man who brings you a bag of Tootsie Pops, all cherry, from the store. Dip them in black coffee. You won’t be sorry.) 

I needed to state this disclaimer because so many people in my town, country, and worldwide are in deep trouble. I am not unaware or unsympathetic.

 

 

Jan 072022
 

January 7. 2022 — When I was a month old, I attended my first picnic, or so I’m told. My parents put me on a blanket with another infant, a baby boy born in April to my summer birth. To paraphrase Louie in “Casablanca,” that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Michael “Mike” Gene Butt, who died unexpectedly on January 5,  was the son of Clara Marie Butt,  a third-grade teacher in the same school system where my father taught agriculture in high school. The South Whitley school system was small, and everyone knew everyone else and their families. My mom was a frequent substitute teacher in elementary school. Mike’s dad, “Red,” was an executive with a local company. a long-standing civic leader, and an active fire department member.

Our elementary school had two classes for each grade. Michael’s mom was a third-grade teacher, so he was in the “other” classroom with our teacher, Miss Enid Heckman. One day, my mother was substituting for Miss Heckman. Mom didn’t put up with any nonsense, especially from her oldest child. Michael and I talked, and Mom sent us out in the hall.

Mom threw gasoline on the fire because we talked loudly and laughed hysterically in the hallway. Michael was a dark-haired Dennis the Menace, always clad as a child in a horizontal-striped shirts boys wore then. I can close my eyes and see the two of us in the hallway, tucking it up. In third grade, I had wild hair that my mom attempted to tame with oversized barrettes.

Mrs. Butt flew out of her classroom and immediately sent both of us to the principal’s office. I don’t remember what happened next, but I always felt some sort of pride that the only time I ever got in trouble in elementary school was from his mom and my mom.

Approximately one week before the Senior Prom, Mike and I worked on “paste-up” for the high school newspaper in the small newspaper office. I’m guessing the usual cast of characters was also there, but I don’t remember. Paste-up involved adhering long strips of galleys (the printed stories) to the page. We didn’t have a waxer, which professionals used to put an adhesive material on the back of the galley, so we used rubber cement. Mike decided it would be fun to pour rubber cement IN MY HAIR for whatever reason. I’m sure I said something that provoked this attack, but I don’t know what it was for the life of me. We enjoyed a near-constant stream of banter that probably most others didn’t appreciate when we were together.

I had to cut my hair, so it was very short for the Prom.

We wanted to do something spectacular to bid farewell to our high school before he went off to Franklin College and I went off to Ball State University, both to study journalism. So we spent weeks cooking up what may still be one of the most glorious senior pranks ever.

A week before school was out, we each brought in wind-up alarm clocks from home. We set them for 9 a.m., placed them inside our central hall lockers, and went to class. At 9 a.m., the alarms went off, and they were VERY loud. Management (aka the principal RV Reed) figured it out from the locker numbers, and we were summoned to his office. He gave us a pass and sent us downtown to Gruwell’s for doughnuts. Have to love Mr. Reed; God rest his soul. (I think there were other partners in that crime.)

In retrospect, high school was not the greatest time of my life. I always felt like an outsider — so different from elementary school, where I knew everyone. The larger consolidated high school environment was so different from my k-8 experience. But Michael Butt made it bearable and so much fun. He was an unbelievable prankster, but he was always kind and understanding and willing to listen to various incarnations of high school girl drama. I saw Michael at the occasional reunion, and we generally emailed around each other’s birthdays.

In my mind, I see the gregarious 17-year-old boy with his pal Bruce, riding in Bruce’s brother’s baby blue Caddy convertible on Homecoming night 1974. Mike always loved cars, Caddies, Miatas, and Corvettes. So rest in peace, a dear friend.

 

Jan 062022
 

January 6, 2022 — Mark this date on your calendar as the one where you have enough evidence to lock me up, to quote Perry Mason, in an east-coast sanatarium. For the first time in a year or so, we have snow. And like all first snows, it is beautiful, covering the ground like a pure white fleece blanket. Since 8 a.m., I’ve been in my office watching birds feed at four feeders on our deck. The feeding tableau doesn’t seem real–the birds have been coming all morning with no break. There are several pairs of cardinals, three different kinds of woodpeckers (pileated, downy, and what I think is a red-crowned woodpecker), tufted tit-mice, and various small brown birds. I think some may be goldfinches with a darker color for the winter.

Their behavior fascinates me, especially the cardinals who hover around the window feeder and talk and chatter to me, or that’s how I perceive it. Cardinals have special meanings for many people. I like the Cardinals because they are the mascot of my college. (I have a Cardinal red car with Cardinal license plates.)  I hear there’s a baseball team with that name, but I don’t much care about them. Some people believe that the red birds represent a loved one who has passed and visited in the form of a cardinal. Regardless, Charlie is a beautiful bird. That other can see their departed loved one in his red crown and feathers make him all more appealing.

My time communing with our feathered friends is one of the great joys of retirement. I sit in my comfortable chair, having my second cup of coffee and watching the snow descend on these delicate creatures. I know it makes me a cliche (yes,  I do eat supper at 4 p.m.,  and I talk to myself, so what?)

Charlie Cardinal and friends

I spent time each day on Facebook for more than a decade, feeding their algorithms. I originally joined for two reasons: to stalk my non-communicative son at college and keep up with friends after the dissolution of Salon’s writing group, Open Salon. Our adult son became a grown-up and communicated regularly. I stopped posting or sharing most political posts after 2016 because either I would get into arguments with people or be trolled. It wasn’t worth it. When I got an Instagram account to promote my new book, I believe that led to extreme trolling, hacking, and copying my accounts.

I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou at all. My account is still there because I realized I needed it to watch my church services. However, since I announced my flouncing and didn’t read or post, the account has been inactive. I thought I would miss it more than I do, but I don’t. Several friends have made me aware of when there’s a death or an issue with a friend.

Now I have more time. I don’t get rattled over what Charlie Cardinal says at my window, and I often get upset about others’ posts. While I often felt tense or anxious when I read Facebook, I relaxed and focused when watching the birds.

For me, leaving Facebook was the right decision. Maybe I’ll come back someday if our national polarization lessens. But, for now, I would rather spend my time with these fat little creatures of nature.

 

 

Dec 112021
 

In Texas, Panic Over Critical Race Theory Extends to Bookshelves – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

December 11, 2021 — I’ve been a voracious reader all my life.  I was read to as a child, and I witnessed two parents reading every day, from the weekly and daily newspapers we received to their respective alumni magazines and books that reflected their own interests.  My mom took my brother and me to the library weekly.  When I was old enough, I could go on my own.  My mother and grandmother were in “literary” sororities, and our family was often engaged in whatever book each of them was to present that year.

I know that I was extremely fortunate to come from a family of readers. Even my paternal grandmother, who left school in the fourth grade, made a weekly trip to the library.  My parents were both teachers, and reading was sacrosanct in our home.

After moving to the country in 1966, I lost my town playmates. As a result, I became even more of a serious reader.  I rode my bike into town, and the big basket held four or five books.  I liked reading current fiction, history, and especially biography.  I particularly liked the books by Arthur Hailey. So when I checked out the novel “Hotel,” the librarian called my mom to suggest Hailey was inappropriate reading for me.  I think I was about  12 or 13.  The librarian — you can’t make this up — was named Marian.  I am not kidding.  She was a dear person who started the literary sororities in our little town in the 1930s.  (When I wrote my first book and did a well-attended book signing at my hometown library, I stopped by her nursing home to give her a copy of the book.)

But here’s the most important aspect of the Arthur Hailey story.  My parents felt I could handle the book and allowed me to read it.  Before my father taught agriculture, he taught biology, and difficult subjects weren’t hidden from us.  I can’t for the life of me remember what the objectionable part of the book was, but I know I enjoyed “Airport,” “Hotel,” and other Hailey books.  I doubt seriously that my parents would have let me read pornography; in fact, I’m sure of it.  But they had been guiding what I read and heard from before the time I could read.

Not every book is appropriate for every child.  My husband is a librarian and made a summer reading list for our son when he was young.  I didn’t always agree with every book (Jackie Collins), but I trusted my husband.  We also discussed almost everything you can imagine in our house.  Our son still is a huge reader in his spare time and doesn’t seem to have ill effects from reading great literature like Huck Finn in junior high or that blasted Collins book.  And why?  Because he had parents and teachers and other family members who were readers and talked to him about what he read.

In reading, we can learn not to fear what we don’t understand.  One comment from the New York Times article really stood out to me, “Mr. Krause, who compiled the list of 850 books that might “make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish” because of race or sex, did not respond to interview requests. Nor did his aides explain why he drew up the list, which includes a book on gay teenagers and book banning, “The Year They Burned the Books” by Nancy Garden; “Quinceañera,” a study of the Latina coming-of-age ritual by the Mexican Jewish academic Ilan Stavans; and a particularly puzzling choice, “Cynical Theories” by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, which is deeply critical of leftist academic theorizing, including critical race theory.”

Feeling discomfort, guilt, and anguish?  When I read that, my mind went immediately to Colin Craven, the frail hero of my favorite childhood book, “The Secret Garden.”  Reading about Colin for the first time in the late 1960s, I remember feeling “discomfort, guilt, and anguish.”  Colin was alone most of the time; he had no friends.  My life was so different.  Yet “The Secret Garden” was such a profound book for me as a child and taught me so much.  Here’s something else shocking.  I was reading Philip Roth fairly early.  I will note that I liked “Goodbye, Columbus” better than “Portnoy’s Complaint.”  (And if you haven’t read, “The Plot Against America,” well, you should.)

I suspect any child reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will feel many emotions about Jim, the enslaved man.  How can we hide that enslaved people built our country?  Children need to know these things.  For children below high school age, parents need to engage in and understand what their children are reading. I do not support a random school board telling the librarians what to buy and teaching the teachers.

When I was in high school seven thousand years ago, I worked as a writer for my high school newspaper.  During my junior or senior year, the high school moved to a “Phase Elective English” program.  Rather than teaching literature the way it had been taught in Indiana for a hundred years, classes were offered by topic, Shakespeare, Love Stories, Poetry of Relevance, etc.  One of the sections was the “Man Series.” Unfortunately, I cannot remember anything about it and could not find any references on Google.

I remember that the high school administration, school board, and community members felt it was inappropriate for high school juniors and seniors and pulled it off the schedule.  Our high school paper editor wanted to tackle this in the newspaper, but the advisor did not allow him to do so.  They compromised by his putting out a “mimeographed” (oh, remember the pervasive, mind-altering odor of mimeo fluid?) opinion that this class and subsequent books should not be banned.

The phase elective class I took was the best class I had in high school.  I kept the books (one for each semester).  This book compared current (the late sixties) poems with current songs.  We studied Amy Lowell’s “Patterns” and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I am Waiting.”  We studied the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth.”  This class dragged me into loving classic poetry by showing me the parallels with modern music.  Today these books are on my desk, dog-eared and beloved, along with my Helen Ferris’ anthology of famous poems and volumes by Dickinson, Yeats, Kipling, and others.  I’m so glad that wasn’t tagged with the same brush as the will-never-see Man Series.

If you are a parent or grandparent, don’t give up your rights to random strangers. Trust teachers and librarians.  They are not trying to indoctrinate your children. On the contrary, this group has trained to help children understand our complex world.  As the daughter of teachers and the wife of a college librarian and faculty member, I can assure you that people don’t become teachers for any reason other than loving children and teaching.  It sure is not for the money or the glamour.

You do your children no favors by hiding them from the reality of slavery or carnage European immigrants heaped upon indigenous peoples.  Sometimes cliches fit the bill, and this one does, “Those of us who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.”

 

Please share on your social media.  Indie writers need love, also.  Cross-posted on Medium.

If you wish to comment, you can reach me at amy@amyabbottwrites.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 062021
 

December 6, 2021 —  The recent death of Stephen Sondheim put his amazing work back in the spotlight.  For me, a lifelong lover of musical theater, Sondheim was never far from mind. Especially as the genius director Steven Spielburg releases a reboot of the sixty-year-old film classic, “West Side Story.”  That movie was based on the successful 1957 Broadway musical, which ran for 732 performances before going on the road.

My parents didn’t have a television until I was four or five. So we listened to  cast albums on their RCA video high-fi (high-fidelity set.)

This week, a new film version opens in theatres and takes on the age-old conflict between star-crossed lovers, just as the Bard did originally in “Romeo and Juliet.”  Everything about “West Side Story” is magical.  How count it not?  The book is by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein (yes, that Leonard Bernstein), choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins, and in his debut, Sondheim’s lyrics.  This story’s elements mesh to make a timeless classic, one that holds up in 2021 as it did in 1957 and 1961, respectively.  It will be interesting to see if the Academy and the Tonys reward this current effort as both did six decades ago.

Set on the near upper west side of New York City (in roughly the area where Lincoln Center now sits), “West Side Story” explores the tension between two rival gangs of Puerto Ricans (whose families came to the mainland) and white youth (who unless they are indigenous, also had ancestors who came to New York.)  Yet, the whites are threatened by their Hispanic neighbors and fight for territory in their impoverished area.

Tony, a Polish-American boy, falls in love with Maria, a recent transplant from Puerto Rico.  While they know their love will be despised and even forbidden by their families and friends, Maria and Tony continue to see each other.

Robbins’ amazing dances move the story forward, using movement to tell the story.  Add the words of Sondheim, who is indeed a poet, and it all combines heartbreaking sensory magic.  Sondheim treats every word of every song as if it is a precious gem he is setting.  The word must fit; it must be exactly right.  And it always is.

One of the great thrills of my theater-going life was seeing a revival of “West Side Story” on Broadway in 2009.  This particular reboot won a Tony for Karen Olivo.  This version was known for being the first to use Spanish-language songs. So even for the non-Spanish speaker, the familiar music was easy to follow. But, of course, things have changed a little.  Maria was played by Caucasian Natalie Wood, in brown make-up, in the 1961 film, and a few Hispanics in the cast.

I won’t spoil the ending for those who have not seen it, but one shakes ahead, wondering if we can ever learn from the past?

Spielberg’s “West Side Story” opens in theaters on December 10, 2021.

This film is probably the most daunting of my career. West Side Story is arguably the greatest score ever written in the theater, and that’s not lost on any of us. It’s very intimidating to take a masterpiece and make it through different eyes and different sensibilities without compromising the integrity of what is generally considered the greatest music ever written for the theater. But I believe that great stories should be told over and over again, in part to reflect different perspectives and moments in time into the work.

Steven Spielberg

 

 

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Nov 212021
 

Through the years, we all will be together.

If the fates allow

So hang a shining star upon the highest bough

And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

 

November 21, 2021 — Christmas music is one of my favorite aspects of the holiday season. And the station I listen to for half of November and most of December has returned “Holiday Traditions” plays Christmas oldies, mainly from the 1970s and before. I heard Snoopy’s TV Christmas special music on my first listening venture, Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” and an excellent version of “Silver Bells.”

I know all the words to these old songs; they somehow never seem to leave me. So why can’t I remember where my keys are but know every version of “What Child is This?” As a child, I played Christmas carols on the piano for about half the year. Until arthritis in my hands got the better of me a few years ago, I could still play a wicked “Winter Wonderland.”

Yet, as we grow older, the holidays change, as do we. Music and festivities remind us of happy times, which morph into memories of those no longer with us. This is both a curse and a blessing of living into seven decades. What a great blessing to have the loving memories of aunts and uncles, three grandparents, and a parent. Yet, I feel the loss more poignantly over the holidays. I can’t help but look back when I hear familiar carols and songs.

My best childhood memories came from when I was tiny. We visited both my father’s and mother’s sides of the family. My dad is the youngest of six — all five gone — Dad is about to turn 91. His family was so large that they often met at the community center in a rural town.  My aunt, a self-trained musician who owned four organs and a piano, cooked up performances with the children. We sang familiar songs. Some of my cousins were very good — some of us were tone-deaf. We made up in enthusiasm what we lacked in raw talent or the ability to sing on key.  These gatherings of my father’s side usually happened on a weekend adjacent to the actual holiday.

My family of origin attended our little Lutheran Church for Christmas Eve with its tradition of towel-headed children in Sear’s plaid bathrobes as the original First Family. We were Baby Boomers, with many shepherds and angels.  I was never cast in a lead role. Always too tall for Mary. We sang “Away in a Manger,” which today brings me tears as I can hear my mother’s sweet voice in my mind. (Six weeks before Mom died, she and I watched a holiday special on Christmas night while everyone else played cards. She couldn’t remember my name but remembered all the words to every verse of Martin Luther’s famous Christmas carol.)

I was singing at age seven at the community center in grotesque high water pants.

My brother probably doesn’t remember all the words.  He is two-and-a-half years younger and almost always squirmed out of Christmas Eve service by getting sick approximately one hour before the event.  My maternal grandparents and a parent would be there to cheer me, while the other parent stayed home to comfort the desperately ill child. But, sick as he was, my little brother always insisted I bring him the requisite bag of goodies, a peppermint stick, an orange, Brach toffees, handed out to all children after the service.

My maternal grandparents left for Florida days later after celebrating my brother’s birthday and his miraculous return to total health. When I was ten, my grandparent left before Thanksgiving. My mother frequently traveled the day after Christmas, taking my brother or me. I learned about Christmas lights in

Clearwater Boat Parade

palm trees and the view from the Maas Brothers Tea Room in Clearwater.  All the boats on the bay were decorated in holiday lights, and it was a very different scene from snowy, rural northeastern Indiana.  We drove through Belleair and luxurious neighborhoods in Countryside to see holiday lights and watched the boat parade.

I had a perfect Christmas Eve in 1990. I cherish those memories (and we have a 2-hour video that no one wants to watch but for me.)  Our son was about eight months old; his cousin was five months old.  We lived in our first home, a small two-story house with a driveway just big enough to accommodate two cars.  We put out crude luminaries on either side of the driveway, brown paper bags of sand with tea lights inside. My brother’s family arrived on a snowy, dark evening, tired from a 10-hour trip from Iowa.  My parents came from South Whitley.  Each of the babies had a Santa Claus suit — my nephews wore an expensive suit, my son’s was from the local K-Mart. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite fit him right in his baby belly, making him look genuinely like a rented store Santa.

My father read the Christmas story from the Bible (the Luke version), and then, for reasons I cannot explain, he read “Casey at the Bat,” a family favorite. The babies did not cry until time for bed; they cooed and laughed. We put them on the carpeted floor in their Santa suits.  Soon, their chubby legs were moving as if riding an imaginary bicycle.  So funny that this event entertained six normally sane adults for hours upon hours.  The younger of the two boys will have his first child early next summer.  I wish him the magic of that day with his child.

Holidays today are not always easy.  We are a nomadic society. My father moved 90 miles away from his family in 1949. My brother and I added to the chaos when we moved away from home in the late 1970s. Our son also moved away from home after high school, a thousand miles away. We see him most holidays, but seeing the wider group gets more complicated.  Families grow — that’s what we call a good problem.

The secret to a happy holiday season is finding joy in what is and not what could be—that game of “what if” is harmful to my soul. So, God willing — we will see many family members at some point over the next five weeks.  And I will listen to holiday music every day.  I allow myself to wallow in good memories. And we will have ourselves a merry little Christmas if the fates allow.

Oct 062021
 

October 6, 2021 — About 10 p.m. last evening, I flushed the commode after doing my duty in the master bathroom. The water in the basin rose unexpectedly and spilled over the top of the rim. I jumped back to avoid getting wet, and the forty-foot tether of oxygen tubing that is my constant friend pulled the metal. vertical, toilet paper holder over and ruined four rolls of Cottonelle. (No cheap stuff for Mama.)

After the flooding ceased, I flushed again. I had my trusty plunger in hand and jumped into the delightful task of plunging before the water got too high again. I was successful, but there was already water all over the floor. The red chenille bathroom rug became the Lake Titicaca under my feet.

I moved the scales, a laundry basket, and the trash can to the adjacent master bedroom.

I had to mop the tile floor immediately, and I went to the closet for my Swiffer (used for emergencies.)  The twice-a-month housekeepers bring mops and soap. Unfortunately, like most cleaning products in this house, the Swiffer was long dead, batteries corroded in their little nest.

I yelled for Herman to go to the garage and bring me a bucket and a mop.  I grabbed the Spic and Span from the laundry closet. Thankfully, we had what looked like three brand-new boxes, unopened.

Herman took forever. I heard him coming up the basement stairs, breathing heavily. He carried our yellow plastic mop buck

See the source image

et and wringer, which he had already filled with water.

I’m not going to argue with him when he’s trying to help me, but I might have put the water in after climbing the stairs.

I cannot explain the mind of mortal man.

The water in the bucket was cold and looked dingy, though Herman said he cleaned out the bucket before dragging it from the furnace room in the bowels of the house. It’s too heavy for me to lift. He instructed me to add the Spic and Span, which I did after adding hot water from the tap.

I mopped the room. Herman said he would dump the dirty mop bucket water in his bathtub just yards away.

In anticipation of the bi-weekly housekeepers’ visit, he had just completed his laundry, and I was about to do mine. The housekeepers were due to visit a day from now. Our motto: “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” There were laundry baskets all over the floor in the bedroom. I made a path for him.

He wound the big yellow bucket and wringer through the path, me jumping out of the way with my plastic tubing in tow. The bucket of water flipped on its side at the lip between the bedroom floor and the hallway floor, expelling the cold, dirty mop water back into the bedroom and out into the hallway, edging close to my office, the exercise room, and the laundry closet.

I had used the clean towels for Niagara Falls # 1. We had no choice but to use my dirty laundry to soak up the water.

Thankfully, my pandemic wardrobe absorbs well – sweatpants and black t-shirts.  Sublime pride rose in my chest that my 44DD bras were particularly good soakers.

Now, eight loads of laundry later, I’m thrilled to have clean floors and clean clothes. Retirement is grand.

 

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Jul 092021
 

July 9, 2021 — We anticipate summer forever and then it seems to rush by. A friend told me that her grandchildren return to school in less than a month.  Returning to school in early August is a silly thing.  Why do children need to spend half their summer in school?  When I was a kid  (there it is, old person lingo) we didn’t go back to school until after Labor Day.  Of course, there was no air conditioning, and that was a big part of it.  Still, on the East Coast, many children do not return to school until mid-September.  This feels right to me.

In truth, it is not summer I highly anticipate.  It is spring.  In southwestern Indiana, summer means ozone days and chunky air. My home sits smack dab in the middle of five coal-fired plants, that are noted for polluting the air.  Combine that with the humidity of the Ohio River Valley, and summer can be daunting.  With my lung disease, I don’t go out much in the summer.

This summer has seemed strange to me,  but not nearly as strange and quiet as the Great Summer of Lockdown 2020, but different.  On one hand, we are delighted that things seem to be opening back up  But everyone seems confused.  On my one trip out of the house since Monday, I went to the local Post Office.  A  small sign on the plastic window  stated, “Masks are required inside the lobby.”  Which lobby?  The outer lobby?  Or this one where the sign is?  Did I miss the sign on the outer door?

I am fully vaccinated.  What should I do?  But I also have several health conditions and I’m not a teenager anymore.  (I’m 37, two years younger than Jack Benny, a name which also dates me.)

Yesterday Pfizer announced that those individuals who received its MRNA vaccine would likely need a booster within six months of their last dose.  Wow.  How will this be managed?  Will folks who received the Moderna jab, also an MRNA vaccine, also get a this shot?  And what about those who received one shot?  What will the tiny sign on the PO window say, “For those of you who have not received your third booster if you had two shots, please mask up.” Huh?

And the Big Elephant in the American room that I’ve not yet mentioned are those people who refuse the shot.  Imagine that all over the world, people are clammering for vaccines.  We’re so fat and sassy in this country that many people are just blowing it off like it is nothing.  I have news for you.  If there’s any virus left anywhere in the world, it is coming for you if we don’t vaccinate.  Remember from the old commercial:  It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature.  And, frankly, you can’t.  You can run but you cannot hide.

So, months into the pandemic, we are still in a holding pattern.  Or are we?  A relative who drove to Indiana from Chicago this morning told me that, “Chicago traffic is back.”  Everyone — it seems — is going everywhere again.  And that’s how the soup was made before.

I will likely wear a mask out in public for the foreseeable future.  We will mostly stay at home, thankful for hobbies than engage our minds and spirits, and be awfully careful. What is your plan?

 

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Jun 292021
 

July 29, 2021 — I’m happy to report at 39 plus many, many years, I can still learn.

The reason I still learn is that I still make mistakes.

AllowSee the source image me to elucidate. That’s a good example. The word elucidate should be avoided at all costs. The phrase avoided at all costs should be avoided at all costs. That’s a cliche.

Allow me to share my idiotic choices that turned into terrible ideas.

  1.  I ordered a giveaway for 100 Kindle books and posted it on social media before the giveaway actually started.  This made people mad because it took them down a broken elevator shaft when they clicked the beautiful button.  Mad people don’t want to buy your book.  Lesson learned:  read the fine print before you start promoting.
  2. I learned mail merge and purchased a list of bookstore owners. The whole experience involved several mistakes.  Lessons learned:  First, vet the list you are buying.  People who own bookstores that are only for children, LGBTQ, or mystery lovers do not want to sell your Midwestern history book. Second, make sure you know how many outgoing emails your e-mail can send at one time.  Hint: It’s not 2900.  Mine is THREE HUNDRED.  Yes, 3-0-0-.  When you start receiving multiple “undeliverable” emails back to your Inbox, congratulations.  You’ve made several Big Boo-Boos and should be thwacked on the head.
  3. For my next mail merge, I decided to test on a certain list of public librarians from out of state.  Lesson learned:  make sure the email is attached to the mail merge or send out something blank. So that’s what I did.  However, the good news is that I accomplished this no-mail merge on the same day as the first mail merge.  (See above.)  So all the librarian emails came back as “undeliverable.”  I doubt if there will be too many Virginia librarians purchasing my book for their collection.
  4. I posted a note on social media noting that the Kindle book is available.  Lessons learned: do not post anything on social media when you are tired.  When I checked it, I found I had posted a picture of the Moen shower head I want to buy for the basement.  I feel very fortunate, however, as we are also getting a new commode for the downstairs bathroom.  Readers probably don’t wish to see either—showerhead above not an actual one, but freebie one from Wikicommons.  

In my late twenties, I worked for a man who graduated from Annapolis.  He would greet us each morning with a Navy saying, “Another day in which to excel.”  So, we will try again tomorrow, one small indie writer against the machine.

Jun 142021
 

Flag Day 2021 — Strange times we’re in: cicadas eating plants, dogs eating cicadas, humans stepping on cicada carcasses, the world seemingly falling apart, the pandemic over or not?  What does one little book matter in the middle of all this?  It matters a great deal.

History is important.  It’s how we learn when we bother to pay attention. Unfortunately, history isn’t in fashion now, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I fear that generations of students do not hear about the bondage of Africans in slavery to whites, the Great Depression, the Trail of Tears, the anguish of the Civil War.  Lack of context of our past breeds deniers.

Hear me out: nothing I’ve written is as important as “Centennial Farm Family,” my new book that launches two weeks from today. Why?  Because it records a time long gone, a time many of us shared, and a time from which we can learn.

When my maternal grandmother passed, she left me boxes of information—land deeds from the 19th century, pictures, items, history books, and letters. “Centennial Farm Family” took me 29 months as I looked for more information and validated what I already had.

I found some ugly truths about my family.  My ancestors Henry and Philip Long, owned slaves in Virginia.  I felt sick when I found out, but the story needed to be told. Henry’s son Lewis left Virginia for the free state of Ohio.  How I wish I knew if he was opposed to slavery or just experienced wanderlust.  My family also benefited from the inexpensive, rich land that the federal government usurped from the native Americans.

This is not “Gone with the Wind,” I don’t gloss over the terrible things that happened in the family. The first chapter alone will shock the reader with a mysterious poisoning that has never been solved. A family member died after Vicksburg in the Civil War and was buried 300 miles away from home.   His death changed the course of ownership of the family farm, benefiting me.  I hope you are inspired to tell your own stories to your children or even preserve them somehow.

Read “Centennial Farm Family.” On June 28, it will be available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.  Please write a two-to-three sentence blurb of what you learned, what you liked, and what struck a nerve with you on Amazon or Goodreads.  Indie books fight for recognition, and I need your help.  I’ve been blessed already with several editorial reviews from writers and historians.  But I need your words.  If you’ve been an advanced reader, go to Goodreads or Amazon and placing your short review.  Yes, I’m talking to you. It would mean the world to me, and it would encourage others to read the story.

Don’t get me wrong.  This has never been a money-making adventure.  I am donating many books to historical societies, museums, high schools and universities, and libraries in the coverage age.  I am not as concerned about covering my costs as I am about getting the book into the hands of those who will share their own history.  (As you may know, I’m an eccentric billionaire living on an island in the South Seas.)

In summary:

  1. Ask your local library to buy the book or purchase it yourself.
  2. Please read it.
  3. Write honestly about what your thought and post on Amazon or Goodreads.

(Paperbacks are now available on Amazon, hardcovers in pre-order in/at Barnes and Noble or Amazon, e-book coming June 28. The book is in the Ingram catalog and can be purchased there by any bookstore or library.)

Yes, I’m a brazen hussy, but you are already over it and recovering from dealing with my obnoxious self-promotion.

 

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May 292021
 

May 29, 2021 — Joy, in passive voice, is not being sparked in this house, Marie Kondo.

After 29 months, my latest book project (stay tuned) is written, edited, designed, and ready to roll. What is left in its wake is an office I wouldn’t invite the local animal control officer to visit.  (Why do we verbally assault dogcatchers?  They do good work.)

Today is the day I start.  Today is the day I begin to clean my office.  But do I have the strength?  (Obviously not, or I wouldn’t be writing about it.)

As I look around, I see things that shouldn’t be here.  Much of it has nothing to do with the book but adds to its pile of papers, bins, and objects.

  1. The cardboard posters I made for my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary party in 2005.
  2. Every birthday card sent to me by anyone in the last ten years.
  3. Christmas card pictures from family and close friends.
  4. 142,000 magnets on the four-drawer filing cabinet.  Ironically, the filing cabinet is empty, a grotesque symptom of the disease I have.
  5. At least 2,000 blank notecards of all stripes (ones I made, ones I purchased on vacation or at museums.)
  6. A 100-piece package of neon red glitter pens.
  7. Deeds for every legal move ever made by anyone who owned the legacy farm in the book.  What to do?  Wallpaper a bathroom?
  8. At least four million and sixty-six tiny Post-It notes with my illegible handwriting reminding me of something.  Since I can’t read them, they are worthless, but I keep them.

My desk is L-shaped, and I have a small table set up next to it.  I swear the other day–for no apparent reason–I found a program from my own wedding in 1984. How did it get there?  I have no earthly idea.

The goal here is to get rid of ninety percent, maybe ninety-five percent of the papers in this office, so I can really clean the furniture and then have carpet cleaners come in and attempt to restore what was once Berber carpet.

I have a problem.  And it is genetic.  My new book is about four generations of my family.  Did I mention some of them were named HOARD?  This makes me part Hoard, and it is no accident.  Much of this stuff came from LeNore Hoard Enz, my grandmother.  So this is the rhetorical question if I’ve written a book about it, do I need to keep every original piece of paper?  I can’t ask my husband; he’s a librarian.  He’ll say yes.

I have a  history of throwing things away, so I know I can do it.  The reason the metal filing cabinet is empty is that I purged my newspaper and magazine clippings. That was a triumph. You may find this hard to believe, BUT NO ONE WANTS THAT CRAP.  Oh, for heaven’s sakes, stop scowling.  It’s all available online or in books.  Some of my closest friends were horrified that I would throw these things away.  Upon my death, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth because I didn’t save my work. People will weep when they think of the treasures that have been lost.  My page one story on the Toyota plant’s new vehicle, or the history of Girl Scouts in Washington, Indiana.  My series of 4-H Fair pictures from 1978 and 1979, in which almost every animal is overexposed.  Give me a break.  I was using a Roloflex and had to adjust the F-stops.  Do you even know what F-stops are?

Another big success I had was throwing away the slides and carousels from the family collection after I had them digitized, copied, and given to anyone who wanted them (small group.)  Of course, it took me TWO years after I did this: five hundred slides and several carousels.  Slides are coming back.

Time to move on.  There’s a big pile of papers sitting to the left of me, calling my name.  My husband took the recycle box to the Recycling Center yesterday, so I have a big empty box sitting right here, waiting for me to fill it.  I can do this.

 

Watch for “Centennial Farm Family” later this month.  In hardback and trade paperback.

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May 152021
 

How I see myself.

May 15, 2021 — Oversharing.  Yes, that’s how I roll.  This horrifies almost everyone who loves me. But, I have to write.  Whether anyone reads it or not is irrelevant.

I’ve been getting requests for updates.  I appreciate the love and support during this most recent adventure.

People keep asking me what they can do.  I have absolutely everything I need and more, but here’s what you can do.  Please pray for my Pastor Roberta Meyer in her struggle with cancer, my friend Whose Name I’m Not Sharing who has only one good eye and is having issues, my friend Robin Lawrence in her struggle with cancer, Pastor Roberta’s granddaughter Kennedy who needs to gain weight before spinal reconstruction surgery, my childhood friends Cindy and Tim who are both suffering from serious, painful health problems.

And on a wonderful note, we rejoice for the birth of our new great-great-nephew and niece, Owen, and his twin sister Jo, who were born May 4 to our great-nephew Austin and his wife, Coray, in Cincinnati.  They also have a two-year-old, so their household is mighty busy. We thank God for the precious gift of these beautiful babies (both over five pounds) and the lives they will lead.  A prayer is a powerful tool–I believe talking to your Higher Power can change your attitude and doesn’t hurt, either.

How I Look Today.

Okay, now let’s get caught up on surgery.  I expected everything to be as it was twenty years ago.  Why do we as human beings fail to realize that we age?  How do you see yourself?  I see myself as about 37 years old.  But it’s really like Snow White looking in the mirror and seeing the old hag in the reflection.  I still can only see Snow White, and as Fernando would say, “She looks marvelous.”

Now I was knocked out, so I didn’t know, but it sure caused some excitement with the Gas-Passers on board, an MD, and a CRNA, for which I’m grateful.  I had been given general anesthesia (as opposed to conscious sedation) because this was a lengthy surgery with several items on the “to do” list.  A bigger tube was used to open my airway during the bronchospasm, which left me with a big fat lip and a sore throat.  The surgeon was not able to do everything on his list.  He did, however, fish out the old lens and replace it with a new one.  There’s a good chance my peripheral vision will return, which helps with balance and depth perception.  My central vision in that eye is likely not returning. The surgeon would make a second pass at placing a gas bubble in the macular hole that’s developed.  I had this surgery two years ago, and it did not work, so I’ve been without central vision in that eye since then.

When the pressure returns to my left eye, the good news is that the vision will likely come back.  I’m wearing an eye shield with a patch over it to hold it in place, so I can’t wear my glasses.  I can read perfectly well with my right eye, especially on my large computer monitor, but I can’t see distance.  I’ve been listening to podcasts, including one on Lady Bird Johnson that usually accelerates my nap within thirty minutes.  It’s a good story — she was a smart businesswoman who influenced LBJ’s presidency more than we knew at the time.  But the podcast also has a melatonin quality to it.

So all is well here at Squirrel Vista, where I am grateful for good doctors, a smoking hot male nurse named Herman, and loving family and friends who prayed and reached out.

 

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May 112021
 

May 11, 2021 — Tomorrow morning at 10:45 a.m. Central Daylight Time, while you are having your second or third cup of coffee, I’ll be under anesthesia.  About a month ago I experienced a loss of vision in my left eye, and will be having my second vitrectomy. More on that later.

This past week I’ve spent much time on the phone with the surgery center in preparation for the festive events.  Last Friday afternoon the surgery center called  to remind me that “if your underpants are not 100 percent cotton, you will  have  to have  the surgery without them.”

What?  This pronouncement struck me as absolutely hilarious.  I have no idea if my Granny panties are 100 percent cotton.  I had a similar surgery in February 2019 and they had me take off my top and That Apparatus that Holds The Girls Up, but I swear I wore undies and jeans right into surgery.  I can understand why That Apparatus that Holds The Girls up would be suspect, what with its series of iron and steel levers and pulleys to get the job done.

My husband was incredulous that I did not ask WHY undies had to be 100 percent cotton.  I felt like I had spent enough time talking to the surgery center last week.  It didn’t matter.  I swear if I had asked them why, they would have made another ridiculous request.  Maybe all my toenails need to be shaped into hearts, a new Joint Commission recommendation.  (From Dr. Google, I learned that some patients have been burned by the metal in their Spandex underpants because eye surgeons use cautery.  Okay, that makes sense, but wouldn’t the metal parts on blue jeans, the rivets and the zippers be way more worrisome than undies with a 5% Spandex content?  What do I know?  I studied the liberal arts.)

At their request, I had talked with the surgery center folks many times this week. However, they waited until Friday afternoon to have me check with the retinal surgeon about taking 81 mg of aspirin daily.  Of course, I immediately called the office, which told me that I needed to check with my cardiologist.  Anyone who has ever worked in healthcare knows that you NEVER call a doctor’s office on Friday afternoon or Monday morning. Fortunately I got through to both offices.

After finishing my calls, I checked the undies drawer.  Of course, I can’t see well, and the labels were faded.  I had to search through the entire drawer to find a label I could read.  95% cotton, FIVE PERCENT SPANDEX.  I found one pair of really old Granny Panties that were 100 percent cotton and I could still see the label.  That they had a label tells you how old they are.  Haven’t they been printing labels directly on the undies for two decades?  This pair was in sad shape and went directly into the trash as I feel the hot breath and wrath of my mother who always warned me about moments like this.  Spandex it is.  Au naturel.

Then there was the matter of COVID testing.  I was told that regardless of getting my jabs on February 8 and March 1, I needed to have a COVID test.  Wednesday of last week, they called to say if I could send my COVID test card, I was off the hook as long as I stayed in lockdown until surgery day in a week.  I took a picture of the card and sent it to the surgery center with a request that they let me know if they received it.

The surgery center has a policy to use secure and encrypted email,  so I got an email back on my phone with a two-screen procedure on how to set up their email system.  I just wanted to know “YES or NO, Did you receive my #$%(*$ card?”  The type was so small that I could barely read it (remember I am having EYE surgery.)  So I called and of course, I didn’t get the same person because that’s now how they do things.  Finally, the random surgery center person was able to look at my chart and see that the card was there.

After the surgery, they’ll send me a teeny tiny email to see how I’m doing.  Maybe it’s a TEST.  I can’t see the giant E in the doctor’s office but I’m supposed to read this teeny tiny email on my phone.

***

About 28 years ago, I started having eye problems and was diagnosed with Pars Planatis (often known as Uveitis.)  My local ophthalmologist sent me to a world-renowned retinal clinic at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.  I was 34, my husband did not have tenure, we had a mortgage at 8 percent, and a two-year-old who had just been diagnosed with autism.  We sat in the waiting room surrounded by people in various stages of blindness.  It scared the living hell out of me.  I prayed that my vision remained until I raised my child to adulthood.  I had no idea, but many people suffer from retinal diseases.  My husband’s brother also has the same disease.  I had no idea. The initial experience made me so aware of how precious all our senses are, and how lucky we are to enjoy them.

My prayers were answered, but my eyes did worsen over the years. I was diagnosed with various issues, had treatments and surgeries.  My vision in my right eye remained fairly good, except for glaucoma which is kept in check by drops.

Fast forward to about a month ago.  I woke up one morning, and out of my left eye, I could only see a fog of shapes and colors, light and dark. I also saw a crescent-shaped floater (floaters are not unusual for me), but this one was large.  My opthalmologist worked me in and sent me to the retinal surgeon.  The doctor figured out that my artificial lens–placed years ago when the cataract was removed–was coming loose.  I saw the edge of it.  He decided to see me in three months but told me to call if it got worse.  Within days it got much worse, plus I  could see the entire artificial lens, which has been incredibly distracting and irritating.  I’ve been patching my eyes, purchased both a leopard skin patch and a hot pink one. (Catch me out on the town with my bifocals, oxygen cannula and cord, leopard eye patch, and Aetna Medicare purple face mask, and you will have seen the foxiest 63-year-old in the universe.  I have to wear my tiara only at home now because I am Just. Too. Much.)

So the doctor is now replacing the lens.  A note: if you’ve had normal cataract surgery, don’t worry.  This hardly ever happens as Cap’n Carl said when he took us and two 11-year-olds on the Florida dolphin cruise and we saw wild dolphin sex.   

Chances are the new lens will give me back some of the vision I’ve lost, which will be great.  My balance and depth perception has been compromised.  If the vision doesn’t return, my brain will adjust, and likely the balance and depth perception will also adjust and I can resume my career as a knife-thrower.

There are millions of people with monovision who do just fine.  You may not be aware you know people with monovision. The doctor will also make a decision in surgery whether or not to place a bubble in a macular hole that has returned.  I had surgery for that in 2019 and it did not work, but he may try again with nothing to lose.

I would appreciate your prayers and good thoughts.  And if you could each deposit $3,000 in my bank account, that would also be helpful.  I can certainly recover better if I have a driver and a black town car to take me, my husband, and my giant oxygen tank to a private beach where the pool boy is Pierre Brosnan. I will not be online until Thursday after the patch comes off.  We will know Thursday if the new lens has made any difference.

 

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May 092021
 

I’ve misbehaved at times. One of my lowest moments involves Valentine’s Day 1983.  Valentine’s Day is among the Hallmarkiest of Hallmark holidays, setting expectations for some and creating downright heartbreak for others.

I was in a new relationship, only about six weeks in.  I had high hopes for our first Valentine’s Day together.  Being immature,   I had dreams that he would shower me with love and gifts.  He gave me flowers and an ankle bracelet.  I was not too fond of the ankle bracelet and let him know about it.  I know, right.  My husband–then-boyfriend–is one of the sweetest, most caring men on earth. I gave him a bad time for reasons I can’t remember. A completely unnecessary bad time.  Amazing that the relationship survived.  Then-boyfriend was also acting a little weird that day, and I couldn’t figure it out.

Much to my long-term shame, I found out later that Valentine’s Day is his father’s birthday.  His father was killed in a car accident on November 6, 1982, at the age of 61 just months before this Hallmark holiday.  I had no idea.  I had heaped expectations of this wonderful man when he was in pain.

Great-grandmother Anna, mother Marilyn, grandmother LeNore, 1936, Homeland Farm, South Whitley, Indiana

And he gave me lovely gifts, which I didn’t appreciate because I couldn’t get out of my own way.

That moment was a reckoning for me and made us talk about how we felt about holidays.  We decided early on that cards will suffice for most of these holidays. That was nearly forty years ago.  Since then, I’ve lived with a man who is 99.8% of the time (doesn’t get 99.9% because of how fast he surfs through TV channels). He is kind and good, who takes care of me every day.

Today is Mother’s Day, a rough day for many people.  Those who have recently lost their mothers are battered with pictures of happy mothers and children.  Some lost their mothers as children and have a huge hole where memories should be.  Some are childless, not by choice.  Some have lost mothers and children to COVID in the last year and other diseases, accidents, etc., in prior years.  The time before the holiday is a stampede of advertising, and it’s everywhere.  You can’t hide from the perfect families of TV and the Internet.

Both our mothers are gone, 2010 and 2012, respectively.  Our only child lives 1,100 miles away and will celebrate Mother’s Day with his girlfriend, her parents, and likely her grandparents.  I’m glad they can be together.  (And after not seeing him for 18 months, we will see him in 22 days!) 

While Mother’s Day is tough for some individuals, it’s heaven on earth for business.  An article on the “Grammarly” blog noted,  In 2017, the expected total spending for Mother’s Day in the United States is $23.6 billion. That’s an average of $186.39 per shopper. In the fourteen years, the National Retail Federation has conducted the Mother’s Day spending survey, that’s the highest amount yet.

On my heart, today are so many, one whose mother died far away during COVID. She has yet to visit the cemetery, one whose mother stopped talking to her when she got cancer. There are several women I know who lost babies to SIDS and childhood cancer.  Several others lost their mothers early in life. I know a wonderful woman of God fighting cancer, and her granddaughter, who lives five states away, suffers from a disease that requires major reconstructive spinal surgery.  I think of many friends whose mothers live far away in facilities that limit visitation. Many of their mothers have some dementia that limits their communication skills. And I think of several whose children don’t speak to them because a spouse doesn’t like the mother, and on and on.

If you are lucky enough to spend time today with family, don’t take it for granted.  Today I’m thankful that I  experienced much joy with my mom in the later parts of her life, even as she suffered from dementia. I am thankful to have known and loved my mother-in-law, who adored her son and grandson.  I am thankful for my son, a beautiful person who makes every day Mother’s Day for me. Having lived away from family most of my life, I learned that one must make your holidays when one can.  Don’t let the world tell you when to celebrate.  Don’t celebrate if you don’t feel like it.  And if you do, take joy and pleasure in those moments when you are together or memories you made together.

 

 

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May 022021
 

Courtesy South Whitley Community Public Library

As a child, I spent much time with my maternal grandmother, LeNore Hoard Enz. One of her main interests was family history. “Grammy” kept pictures, documents, and objects from her pioneer past. She recorded interviews with pioneer farmers for the local library,  using something new called a cassette tape recorder. Several of the interviews have been transcribed, and one I was able to use for my current project.

Our hometown library was — and is — a treasure trove. When I was a child, the building’s basement held the greatest gems in giant black books. Within their pages were bound copies of the local weekly newspaper, going back decades. My visits came after the town built the new library in my early teen years.  My grandmother had filled me with curiosity about my past, which has led to my own interest in family history.

I remember quite specifically looking for and finding an article about the death of my great-aunt Sarah Mae Hoard, who was my grandmother’s older sister.  Sarah Mae was known as “Mae.”  Mae was killed in a car accident when my grandmother was 14.  Mae had

Mae Hoard, age 14.

been my grandmother’s favorite sister.  Her oldest sister, Zoe, and my grandmother, LeNore, clashed as children and for the rest of their lives.  Great-Aunt Mae died 35 years before I was born, but she was very much alive to me through my grandmother’s stories.

I’ve written a new book that tells her story along with tales of our mutual ancestors.  The book Centennial Farm Family–Cultivating Land and Community 1837-1937 will be available at the end of June.  I long finished the story of Mae with multiple obituaries from newspapers around the area.  A couple of weeks ago, I remembered that as a child I had found Mae’s obituary in my hometown newspaper.  The library which housed the giant black books is 300 miles away.  The black books are long gone, replaced with microfilm.  Could a librarian find that same article I read as a curious adolescent?  Giving Taira Simmons at the library the date and names, she found the citation within a day.  She even sent the newspaper’s masthead from that week which shows the top of Mae’s story at flush left, “Mae Hoard Victim of Auto Wreck.” (The staff at the South Whitley Community Public Library has been extremely helpful to me in my research over the years.)

I had used other obituaries for the book, but it was still thrilling to see that the same story I read at 13 was still available fifty years later.  (Yes, I know, I should get out more.)  Seriously, anyone who researches family history will understand my happiness in seeing this article again. And this is why I devote my time to family history — fifty years from now; I hope someone will run across this column or my Ancestry page or my books and find them useful in their own search.

One cannot easily pass a passion along to another person. It is, however, my hope that readers will find something in my writing that encourages them to search out their own past.  A caveat, however. One can find surprises and shocks; I found several stories I would have rather not known.  I did not shy away because the truth makes up the jigsaw pieces of the puzzle that is my grandmother’s family.

Each person’s life affects another, as the angel Clarence Oddbody tells, “It’s a Wonderful Life” hero George Bailey.  Looking at the overall picture of my grandmother’s family, I cannot help but wonder how things would have been different had the 1922 accident never happened. “What if” is never a productive game. But I can’t help but wonder, having heard about the aftermath of Mae’s death.  Would the two remaining sisters have reconciled? What would have happened to their parent’s farm? Would Mae have married a local boy who wanted to farm the farm? Would that have stopped my grandparents from moving back to Indiana from their cushy life in Springfield, Illinois?  My grandparents and their daughters moved from a plush city home to a farmhouse with no electricity 23 miles from a city.

Like others in my book, Mae’s life and death affected many people. What happened to the farm ownership with each passing generation changed with unexpected deaths like Mae’s. Ultimately, the farm stayed in the family for 173 years, receiving the Indiana Historical Association award for a century of continuous ownership.  Writing the book took me on a journey of discovery without a clear map, heading off in directions that surprised me, shocked me, and sometimes delighted me.

I hope you will start your story today.  Your descendants are counting on you.

Coming June 28, 2021


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