Amy Abbott

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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t

 

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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Apr 192021
 

The stories of my ancestors from my maternal grandmother piqued my interest. When she died in 1994, I became the keeper of the flame.

Family members gave me materials, adding to my collection my grandmother (Grammy) had given me. The family stories are compelling and have been waiting for me to propel them into the world.  Many of my lines have dead ends; the Long line had too much information.

I couldn’t wrap my arms around the project. I couldn’t find a way to make sense of it. I had too much information and not enough connection.  My grandmother, born in 1908, had access to most of the family documents and information through her DAR membership. But in the quarter-of-a-century since her death, the Internet has made family research easier. The Internet also offers many options and ways to connect with others who share interests or common ancestors.

Researching on the Internet is more my style than joining the DAR.  I’m still not over the whole Marian Anderson thing from 1939.  Thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt, for stepping up and arranging for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial.

The Long lineage, my grandmother’s mother’s family, offered the most information. I can go back to Hanns Lung, born in 1520 in Baden-Baden, Germany.  Hanns Lung is my 10th great-grandfather, and every single relative through the generations was a farmer until my generation. There are craftsmen, millers, coopers, blacksmiths, cabinet makers, and yes, farmers on my paternal grandfather’s side and my father’s parents’ lineage.

The Long family believed in tilling the soil and encouraged their children to do the same.  The land seems the natural connection around which to shape a narrative. My book traces the story of four generations from 1837-1937.  Reuben and Elizabeth Long, Washington and Jane Long, Henry Kellis Hoard and Anna Long Hoard, and Carl August Enz and LeNore Hoard Enz farmed the same farm these four generations.

I wanted to know why.  Why did my ancestors love the land so much?  I found out why, but I also discovered a treasure trove of stories that I had never heard before.  You know the kind I’m speaking of–the kind that is “never to be discussed again.”

I found untimely deaths, suicide, diseases,  isolation, despair,  bigotry, hatred, unfathomable loss,  destructive weather events, and addiction. I learned that the farm hung on by a  thread several times.  I learned that a relative of mine was killed in the Civil War, and I had never even heard his name.  I learned that my great-grandmother Anna suffered more losses than anyone should in any lifetime.  And she managed to survive, despite the early death of her mother, accidental loss of a brother, loss of a daughter, and an early and horrific accidental death of her husband.

I also found beauty, joy, happiness, contentment, jubilation, creativity, community, and faith. As you will learn when you read “Centennial Farm Family: Cultivating Land and Community 1837-1037,” The Long family was guided by their love and protection of the land.

Until my book is published this summer, I’ll be sharing little tidbits here on my Raven Lunatic blog. At left is one of my favorite pictures from the farm.  I can’t use all of them, and frankly, I’m not sure who this is.  It’s not my great-grandfather, but it might be his brother-in-law Calvin or the hired man.  I suspect it was taken before the turn of the 20th century.  I love the picture because the naive observer sees in this old picture what I saw as a child, a gravel lane leading to the woods in the northwest corner of the picture, a magical place with wildflowers and walnut trees.  In theory, it was full of mushrooms in April and May, but I could never see them.  My mother, as a child, loved going mushroom hunting with her father and was, apparently, a good little mushroom hunter.  (For non-Hoosiers, this is an Indiana thing.  We like to find a fungus among us in the woods, flour it, and then fry it in fat.  Well, some of us do.  I never could hunt them or acquired the taste.  Which is fine because relatives who love them are only too happy to take your share.)

 

@centennialfarmfamily

 

COMING JUNE 28, 2021

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Mar 032021
 

March 3, 2021 — Earlier this week, Herman and I got our second COVID-19 vaccines. Anticipating a rough time, we made a big pot of chicken noodle soup for our recovery.  Both of us had sore arms, and yesterday felt a tiny chill all day. When I checked the thermostat about 9 p.m. last night, I realized we hadn’t turned it up that morning.  So, the chill was self-imposed. More proof that we have lost all sense during the pandemic.

NASA photo

Now we talk about what we will do post-shot-recovery.  I want to go to Cracker Barrel for breakfast sometime. Do I know how to live or what? And maybe take in the new Frances McDormand movie in an actual theater, not in pajamas five feet from our TV. But my social skills and discernment seem to have disappeared under the weight of isolation. It’s like all the muscle memory I had for a normal life has dissipated. I’m terrified of re-entry. Will the fire from my capsule burn me up as I return to earth?

This week marks the first anniversary of Herman coming home for good.  He was scheduled to retire at the end of May when the school year was over. But the university sent everybody home on March 6th. I wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the remote.  I had not processed what it would mean to have both of us in this house. Nor was he quite ready for the fact that the only time he would return to a workplace of more than 32 years was to clean out his office months later.

In some ways, it feels like a century.  In other ways, it feels like a weekend.  All sense of time is lost.  I joke with my brother that the only way we can measure time is by Garbage Day.  It’s the only fixed point in our lives.  Andy’s day is Tuesday, and ours is Wednesday.  The church is still at 10 a.m. Sunday, but it’s on Zoom and YouTube, so I can watch whenever I want. There are no regular coffee days with friends, no lunches out, no Gal Pal days. We have doctor’s appointments, but they aren’t regular.

We’ve been fortunate, as my Grandmother McVay used to say, “If you have a warm house and food to eat, you better enjoy it.”  For years, we’ve talked about downsizing when Herman retired. But I’m glad we had not made that move.  Having a big house was a godsend during this time.  My space. His space. My bathroom. His bathroom.

He has a small ETSY business, and I’m always writing a book, so we’ve kept busy for a year. The plague has only whisked by us—a two-year-old relative got it and had no symptoms. It was discovered on a well-baby checkup. The in-laws of my cousin died days apart. They had been masking and social distancing.  One masked visit from their adult son sickened them. My small church has had four deaths from this awful disease. The plague is everywhere in wider and wider concentric circles around us, touching and destroying so many lives that it is almost impossible to grasp the enormity of the loss.

We are beginning to think about downsizing. We hired a home inspector to tell us what surprises were in store.  Whew!  The roof and the foundation are good. But something was going on, under our noses, that we didn’t know. We have a potentially exploding toilet. Yes, that’s what I said. It turns out the Gerber FlushMate has been known to be a porcelain projectile, a sh##ty shooter, a rear-end rifle. Okay, I’ll stop, but I don’t want to. A butt bullet?

You live in a house for 26 years, and you think you know it.  And right in front of your face is danger. Or rather, behind you is danger.

Anyone who has known us for longer than five minutes knows that our most significant problem with this house hasn’t been an exploding toilet.  No, it has been an overabundance of critters. We weren’t even  that impressed at the San Diego Zoo.  They didn’t have that many animals, compared to what lives under our yard barn and deck.  Well, the yard barn is history, having suffered an enormous hole in the roof from a storm earlier in the year.  Add a Skyride to our yard and its practically the same property as the big zoo in San Diego!.

Under the deck is a magical world of its own.  And before I go on, I have to say a word about decks.  Fire.  That’s the word.  The best thing for a deck is a lighted match, according to my brother.  I will never again own a home with a deck, a basement, or trees.  Decks are a huge pain, and this deck is the biggest pain of all.  It is the entire length of the house, and L-shaped so there’s another large portion that juts out into the yard.  The deck is made of wood and requires enormous effort to keep it up.

I’m late getting to the punchline, but it has been home to more critters than seen on “Wild Kingdom.”  (Dated reference for Baby Boomers.)

We’ve paid Greg the Ground Hog Guy to trap and relocate whatever monstrous beings have settled in for several years now. These include opossums, raccoons, groundhogs, and now skunks. We’ve seen plenty of deer, fox, lions, tigers, and bears, and we hear there are bobcats out there. This year, we decided enough is enough.  Eventually, we want to downsize, and we don’t want to have to declare this as a national

Fat Bastard, baby groundhog on deck, 2019. Now in Gopher Relocation Program, whereabouts unknown.

wildlife refuge when we sell.

Greg will be constructing a barrier under the deck to keep the critters out. To make sure he isn’t closing anyone or anything in, he has posted two web-cams under the deck.  I like to call them Gopher Cams.  Herman keeps saying, “Au revoir, Go-pher,” imitating Bill Murray in “Caddyshack.”  I have to think like a gopher.  Superior intelligence and firepower.

You have Hulu or Netflix or Sling.  So what?  Every morning, I can watch monsters frolicking in living color on my big computer screen.  Last night we had an appearance by Pepe Le Pew and Meester Ground Hog.  Both of them appeared to be significant.  Both showed up, looked around, and left.  There’s a hole under the deck, likely a former groundhog residence, that Greg put something in to discourage settlers.  The night before last, which was Gopher-Cam’s premiere, Pepe Le Pew made his grand entrance.

The hole is directly below my office window.  I wonder if the camera goes the other way and the critters can see me?  We live in their world, you know.  Do they wonder why I’m wearing a Sandra & Ruth & Elena & Sonia T-shirt?  And pink fuzzy house slippers?

Their fate is knowable. They will be leaving soon.  I know this as much as I know my lilacs will bloom in late April. And it’s not like the Roach Motel where roaches check-in, but they don’t check out. They can visit, but they cannot stay. In the words of Jean Paul Sartre, Au revoir, Go-Phers!

 

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Jan 312021
 

January 31, 2021—If you talked to me recently, you know I’m completely obsessed with living in the past. This work is the book I’ve wanted to write since I was a child. In 2019, I compiled letters my now 92-year-old aunt gave me; letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother before they married  “Always Carl” had a narrative arc, but it was determined by the letters.

Something about the “Always Carl” project set off some internal alarm.  If I was going to write my magnum opus, it should be now.  I started on the new book “Centennial Farm Family” about 18 months ago.

Cover by Diana Ani Stokely, GRAFIX to go.

I know I should get to the point and tell you what it is about, but I’m not ready yet, so you are getting more context.  My maternal grandmother was wicked crazy about her ancestors and their stories.  She liked to dress up like a pioneer in a bonnet, black dress, and a petticoat.  (She was on the Bicentennial committee for our county and wore this heavy, black outfit on the July 4, 1976 parade float.  Seriously, she was 68, so I guess she was long past menopause, but I don’t know how she did it. She was big into the DAR, which wasn’t something I wanted to join.  I’m still mad about Marian Anderson.

“Grammy,” that’s my grandmother, told me stories from the time I was a baby until she died in 1994.  She took me to history meetings.  She shared pictures with me.  One of the things she liked to do was interview people on her fancy-schmancy new cassette recorder.  The librarians had transcribed one of the recordings. Grammy interviewed a man, born in 1880, who knew her parents and talked about farming from 1880 to the then-present, which was about 1970. He was a good storyteller, and she asked good questions, which I so appreciate fifty years later.

I always thought I would write a book about her family and the farm.  The stories were compelling, and that the farm continued was pretty impressive considering some of the events that happened. I started looking through the boxes she gave me.

Grammy also wrote a lot of handwritten notes.  I found two that made me cry and fully accelerated my brain into go mode.  I found two notes on which was written “For Amy LeNore,” dated 1958, and tagged to items she thought I might find interesting. I was a year old.  I realize now that I have been brainwashed. However, it is so sweet that she thought someday I would be interested in these old stories.

“Centennial Farm Family”  tells the stories of four generations of the Long family, who kept the same farm for a century and received recognition from the Indiana Historical Society.  There are hundreds of other families who have received this recognition. (The farm stayed in the family for 173 years, but the book stops in 1937.)

Reuben Long came to Indiana in 1835 to stake his claim for 160 acres.  Through wild gyrations like two Great Depressions, a cholera epidemic, and a Civil War soldier’s death, the family ownership was sometimes in  jeopardy. Still, the land came to my great-great-grandfather Washington Long, Reuben’s seventh of eight children.

Two of Washington’s three sons died, and the other had tuberculosis.  But the farm passed to another generation, split between his remaining son and daughter.  Washington’s daughter and husband had three daughters, one of whom died, and the other two left the area.

A colorized picture from a reunion in which three of the four generations in my book are represented

When my great -grandfather died an unexpected and horrific death, my great-grandmother doesn’t know what to do with the acreage, half of the legacy farm, and the land she and her husband have purchased. Two men come along to help her–unlikely suspects really–one of them is in a wheelchair, and the other has a wealthy and kind father.

The farm that was in the family in Indiana for 173 years was sold 11 years ago.  While Reuben’s great-great-great-grandchildren (I would be one of them) still live in Indiana, his great-great-great-great grandchildren have flown the coop.

It’s ironic, for me, that I am the one keeping the farm’s memory alive. I was not interested in agriculture, though I was interested in the stories and pictures.  I wished my family owned the local newspaper.  Not a farm.  As a child, I loved going to the farm, seeing the wildflowers, watching the stars from the large, flat lawn beside the farmhouse, and being with my grandparents.  I wasn’t the type to show animals at the 4-H Fair or make my clothes or grab eggs from under a chicken.

Writing a historical narrative about one’s family is a challenge.  It isn’t quite journalism, and it isn’t quite history.  And it is not fiction. One can speculate, but one cannot make things up.  I am fortunate that I have items from my grandmother as well as a rich oral history. She told me the same stories so many times that I have them memorized.  And along the way, I guess I always knew that I would write this book because I interviewed both my aunt and my father multiple times over the years.  What has also been helpful is the encouragement of many writer friends.  I also took both the beginning and the advanced “Creative Non-Fiction Magazine” classes on Historical Narrative.  For anyone interested in writing a family book, I highly recommend the classes.

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

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune of hearing David Maraniss speak about his new book, “A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father,” through my membership in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Maraniss discussed the tightrope walk between journalism and history and discussed the challenges of working in one’s voice.  He mentioned that he takes about four years to do a book and is currently working on a new book about Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete who started the National Football League.  He affirmed some things for me, one, that I wasn’t taking too long, and two, I need to chase some rabbits into holes for accuracy and completeness of the story.

Talking about research, he said, “Turn the page.”  Three little words that are the key to writing an excellent historical narrative. I’m afraid I’ll never stop writing this book.  The manuscript is 98% finished, but as I edit, I find things.  And when you find things, you dig another rabbit hole.  That’s how I found out today that Washington’s wife’s brother married  Reuben’s brother’s daughter.  In English, this means that my second great-granduncle married my first cousin, four times removed.  That explains a lot.  Stay tuned.

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Jan 262021
 

By elizaIO – https://www.flickr.com/photos/elizaio/5412345718/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91578153

Updated from 2010–January 26, 2021–(This was written when I was a spry 52-year-old, having hot flashes. My sales job required that I visit senior centers.  The senior centers required that sales people “do something for them,” thus, I called Bingo once a month.)

I  have math dyslexia. Numbers just do me in. When God formed the two sides of my brain, He decreed that one side be 95% poetry, words, talking, Joni Mitchell, more poetry, more words, and more talking.

The five percent of my brain representing spatial reasoning allows me to dial a telephone and add one-digit numbers. I call it car-hop math after my high school job at the root beer stand.

I struggle with using a calculator, and I did not fare so well in freshmen Algebra class.

Despite my lopsided hemispheres, today I called my first Bingo game at a senior citizens center. This requires that I read and use numbers.

I arrived early with my prizes and already 60 people sat waiting for me. The game room temperature was a balmy 108 degrees. Most of the guests wore sweaters.  In June. This environment is incompatible with hot flashes and sweaty nervousness about reading and remembering numbers in public.

On the prize table, I put out the prizes I purchased at the neighborhood dollar store. I refer to the prizes as WPC—worthless plastic crap. These delightful parting gifts included hand lotion, sugarless candy, nail clippers, dishtowels, storage bins, a flashlight, a Groucho mask, a toothbrush, combs, a screwdriver, bunion pads, a birdfeeder, bunny ears, gum, and other eclectic WPC. This batch of prizes was of the absolute highest quality, all for less than one dollar. Imagine!  Seriously, did they expect little blue boxes from Tiffanys?

Did I mention the Groucho mask and bunny ears? My theory was these festive items might add a laugh and some fun. I was wrong.

At promptly two p.m., the facility manager was still talking with me, and the serious eyes of the players shot daggers at both of us. These folks were ready to go. B I N G O!!!!

The little white numbered balls rest in a gold apparatus, resembling a wire birdcage. The caller spins the gizmo, and six or seven white balls drop down into an open chute. The caller reads the number and fits the correct ball on a huge white grid with all the numbers and letters on it. This is an easy task for those folks who are not numerically challenged. I swear at employee orientation, they said there would be no math.

Think of it like this: some of us are good at math and science. People with those attributes are called “doctors” or “engineers.” When these individuals view a group of numbers on a page, they see the theory of relativity, a chemical chain, or perhaps nuclear fission.

Others possess excellent skills in talking and writing. These individuals are called “sales reps” or “unemployed.”

Those of us in the second group are fond of saying, “Which of Leonardo da Vinci’s skills would you eliminate, the math/science or the arts?”This philosophical paradox makes for an interesting and provocative cocktail party discussion, or something to ask the person ahead of you in the unemployment line.

Image result for the moonWhen I see numbers on a page, I think of a Jackson Pollock painting. They look like scattered drips of paint that collectively have no meaning to me.  Imagine how much fun I have with an Excel spreadsheet.  Love me some pivot tables.

I blame this whole thing on President John F. Kennedy. I struggle with calling Bingo well because of “new math.” President Kennedy wanted young people to study math and science “so we can put a man on the moon by the end of this decade.”

That darn American “Sputnik moment” really messed me up. I started first grade with old math, and by the middle of second grade, “new math” burned past me to a galaxy, far, far away.

Forty-something years later, add to that the problem of poor vision corrected with bifocals. Did I mention my two cataract surgeries?  And glaucoma?

I spun the machine and looked through the top of my glasses to read the number.

“B, 14. B, 14.”

I liked how my voice sounded through the sound system. A little like Joni Mitchell and a lot like Broderick Crawford.

Next ball.

“N, 41. That’s N, forty-one.

“N, 38. N, three-eight.”

“You’re saying them too fast, honey,” shouted Alma from the front table. “Slow down.”

I felt I was crawling along, but Alma straightened me out. I used my bifocals to read the number and switched to regular lenses to see the cutout grid for the ball. The back and forth made me nervous and somewhat dizzy. And, I have to sound out the numbers phonetically in my head. “Zero, sixty-eight.”

Madeline, in the back row, quickly corrected me. “It’s Ohhhh, not zero.”

I felt that she wanted to add, “you ding-a-ling, what rock did you crawl out from under?”  I had a few choice words for her in my mind, along the same theme.

Seven balls filled the chute. Then, I spun again. If I did not have the right touch on the wire cage, too many balls came out. I spun the cage too fast and four balls fell and bounced on the floor. I chased after them. And the horse she rode in on.

Everyone laughed as I bent over to pick up the rogue balls.  Even in my work suit, I’m sure I looked like one of those  wooden garden cutouts of a farm wife leaning over, that some of the Leisure Land residents had in their tiny front yards.

“I’m winning them over,” I thought, assuming their laughter was friendly. Of course, they were  laughing at the sight of my behind. Then, I said, “Sorry, folks, I have the first-time jitters.”

“Move on with it,” said a man in the back wearing a WWII hat.

“What branch of service were you in?” I asked. “God bless you for your service to our country.”

He said, “Battle of the Bulge.”

“Let’s give him a hand,” I asked the group to applaud this old soldier. No one applauded. The old soldier said, “Now can you just move on?”

As the games progressed, my calling skills improved. I did not drop any more balls, but I did have trouble remembering if it was game one or game two.  This is easily explained. As a post-menopausal woman, I have less estrogen in my body than the old soldier from the Battle of the Bulge. This causes inability to remember which part of the game we’re in. Was it time to clear the board? Did we just clear it? Did I unplug the toaster this morning?

I made a joke out of it. “I’m having trouble remembering which game we are on. This is why no one in my family wants to play cards with me; I’m easily distracted.”

“Cut out the jokes, and move on, girlie-girl,” said the man in the WWII hat.

He was my favorite.

Each winner stepped up to the prize table after I verified the win and took a prize. The Groucho mask and the bunny ears may as well haveImage result for free picture of grocho mask been covered with bubonic plague germs. They did not move off the prize table.

“How about some bunny ears for the grandchildren?” I said, as two winners “Bingo-ed” at the same time. Lurlene, who used a walker and sported shiny pink hair, said, “My grandchildren have their own grandchildren,” and took some dental floss.

This has not been the greatest day of my life for a number of reasons. All day it’s been raining.  I  want to finish this endless nightmare of a game day and go home.

Unfortunately, we’ve only completed four games, but it feels like I’ve been here since seven o’clock this morning. I know we were at game eight because I counted the prizes. I bought twenty-five. I can leave when five remain.

Wait—there is the Grand Prize, a ten-dollar card to Wally World.

Almost finished. I am spinning the birdcage apparatus and I hear Alma and her friends talking about me. They think they are whispering, but they are less than ten feet away from me and I can hear every word.

“She isn’t funny. Why does she keep telling those jokes?”

I want to scream, Ladies, I can hear every word you are saying, but instead I say, “I, nineteen, I, nineteen.”

 

 

 

Nov 012020
 

October 31, 2020 — Today was a great day until about 6 p.m. I’ve spent most of the last 48 hours at a (virtual) humor writers’ workshop named for the late great Erma Bombeck. Erma’s spirit hovers over the conference, and like her writing, the speakers are uplifting, inspiring, and wildly funny. Laughter has soothed the heart of this savage beast, who, like most everyone else, is in a quarantine funk and positively witchy.

On the asset side of the ledger, I heard many A-list writers and comedians talk about craft. I learned so much that I can put into my newest project, which, by the way, is not a humor project. But it’s about my family history. Let me tell you. Somebody has to see the humor in it. #virtualerma #centennialfarmfamily

I also reconnected (even virtually) with old friends and made new ones.  I have been bathed in gratitude and love throughout this experience.  I wish I could bottle and share my emotions.

The conference this time was able to reach nearly twice as many writers. Physical attendance is capped around 350, but the virtual world opened up spaces for more writers.  The technology worked surprisingly well as complicated as it was. (Well, except when zooming from Outer Slobovia, Alabama, on a six-year-old phone. There were a few minor technical glitches. Can you hear me?  Can you see me? Is that your vacuum cleaner in the background?)

The long-time emcee Patricia Wynn Brown put together a video for the end of the conference.  Attendees had been asked to submit a picture of our apparel for the meeting. Naturally, I dressed as Snow White, holding an apple. (The sight of a Plus-sized aging Snow White is enough to scare any Halloween goblin.)

And then the conference was over. The grim realities of pandemic life crept back. Despite a respite for two days, all the world’s problems remained. A friend with cancer got a bad report. The country reached 100,000 COVID deaths.  A friend in Miami still suffers from the long-haul version of COVID. Like my father and aunt, older adults I love remained locked in senior facilities, surrounded by the disease in Indiana and Massachusetts, respectively. There was an earthquake in Turkey, prompting me to look on a map and see if my first cousin, his wife, and their two babies were in danger. (They were not.)  Many in our divided country threaten violence around election time.  And others are locked in private horrors of illness, addiction, death of a loved one, and depression, and anxiety.

Even though I laughed until I cried for 48 hours, the real world was still there.

I wanted to hide in the darkness, and unwittingly, I got my wish.

We had decided not to pass out candy for Halloween this year. In the 24 years we’ve lived here; our neighborhood has been a haven for trick-or-treaters. We usually buy those nice mini chocolate bars, the good stuff, and no circus peanuts. The community rule is that if porch lights are on, we’re open for business. If the porch lights are off, a wicked witch lives here and GET OUTTA MY YARD.

I made beef vegetable soup as my husband, Herman, prepared to leave for the store. I told him that I couldn’t turn on the outside lights for his return because that would signal that we were ready for the little goblins.

Herman had chastised me all week, “You’ll be sorry. I’m telling you.”  He thought we should hand out the candy and be careful at the door.  Since we had no candy, he was abandoning me for the grocery.

During a typical year, my husband — did I mention he’s a weirdo — likes to pass out the candy from a Dutch oven? Not an orange pumpkin, but a Dutch oven. Is this tradition from his strange childhood? I don’t know–he doesn’t own up to it.

He noticed I was cooking the soup in our Dutch oven and commented as he left, “What are you going to tell the children? That you couldn’t pass out candy because you were using the Dutch oven to make soup?”

Yes, that’s EXACTLY what I’m going to tell them, you big dope.

Through the trees, the full Blue moon marginally illuminated the outside of the house.  I needed the kitchen lights to chop vegetables. Chopping celery with a very sharp knife in the dark is a bad idea, at least where I come from. And there it was. Shortly after he left, there was a rapping at my door. Oh, nevermore.

Putting on my purple Aetna Medicare mask, I undid the chain lock from the front door and peeked out. About six inches on the other side of my face was the face of the most beautiful pink princess (sans mask).

“Trick or treat,” she said and was echoed by two other princesses, also unmasked,  right behind her. About six feet behind them stood her unmasked mother, smoking a cigarette.

“I am so sorry. We don’t have any candy this year,” I spurted out, almost in tears. And I turned them away. Hadn’t I just seen on the local evening news a warning that people with compromised health shouldn’t participate in trick-or-treating this year?

I’m a rule follower, but my heart hurt.

I turned off every light in the house, tripping on my oxygen cord until I sat down in front of the TV, still blaring on in the living room.

My wish was granted to sit in the darkness and ponder all that is around me.

When Herman came home and found me in the dark house, he said, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” I was not impressed with Herman going all Sir Walter Scott on me, especially after this witch had tripped all over my web (oxygen cord) trying to find a safe place to hide in the darkness.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.

Erma Bombeck

 

Happy Halloween, everyone. Pray for those in need.

 

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Oct 042020
 

October 4, 2020 —  Earlier in the week, I walked into our kitchen in the afternoon to find my husband in his pajamas, eating lunch.  I wore the pink flannel nightgown I had slept in the night before.  Two p.m.  I noticed that husband Herman was eating clam chowder out of a saucepan.

“We’ve completely deteriorated as human beings,” I said, “We’ve become animals.”

Herman said, “I did this because it’s one less dish for you to wash.”

Honestly, I couldn’t argue with that.

We’ve now been in quarantine since March 6.  Eight months? A hundred months?  What day is it?  Who am I?  How did we get here?  And like my life in 2020, there’s no narrative arc in this piece, just some ramblings and observations from where we are. We both fall into the high risk category.  He’s the shopper.  I only go out to doctor or dentist.

I know that I am beyond fortunate to have a roof over my head with enough space that my Beloved and I don’t drive each other crazy.  He is now fully retired, having completed his 32-year-career at a  local university.  And just in time, as the chaos of the world hits everyone, including small, private universities that struggled before the pandemic.  Herman has an online antiques business (www.randysgallery.com) and it keeps him busy enough that I get the free time I’ve learned to appreciate since my retirement three years ago this month.

We are cautious, but this week we made a six-hour round trip to a park in Greencastle, Indiana, to meet my father, my father’s girlfriend, and my baby brother.  We had not seen them since January 11th when we celebrated my brother’s 60th birthday and retirement.  My Dad will be ninety in December, God-willing.  In the months since we’ve seen Dad, he is more frail and his short-term memory is somewhat diminished.  But we’ve been quantaintining and he has been doing the same, so we enjoyed two of the best (masked) hugs a father and daughter could enjoy.  I cannot find words to express how joyful it was to see him.  He cried when we left, and my heart hurt.  But I am exceedingly grateful that my brother drove them to the park.

Even on a Tuesday in the middle of October when the park wouldn’t be crowed, I made sure we had shelter. I rented a shelterhouse. There was a sign on the shelter that MY NAME had reserved it..  But when we arrived there were about 10 or 12 elderly women having a Bible Study.  Oh, this could be delicate.  What would Jesus do?  Jesus would kick them out, as I did.  Actually, I gave them the option to stay in the large shelter.  But, they left almost immediately.  Was it the way I looked?   I wore my hot pink Heidi hat, the one with two braids that I bought in Iceland.  I had on clip-on, pop-up sunglasses on my purple, rhinestone-laden, new cateye glasses,  fingerless, arthritis gloves, and an oxygen tank strapped to my back.

This time, and possibly henceforth, I was wearing appropriate Foundation Garments. Now, you must be a woman of a certain age to get what I’m saying here.  This is what your mother or grandmother  call a bra.  Women of a certain age and of a certain size called it a Foundation Garment.  It’s what keeps The Girls of a certain age in line, shall we say.

I have known to refer to my rack as the “boobal region.”  For most of my incarceration in suburbia, I have gone without Said Foundation Garment, and this has caused unfortunate consequences.  I am now back wearing the blasted thing which keeps The Girl in their rightful place, because of the following event.

Last week I went into the kitchen to make a simple turkey and cheese sandwich with mayonnaise.  I put two slices of bread on a plate and covered one piece with mayonnaise.  On the other side, I placed a piece of Swiss cheese and turkey breast. I reached over the sandwich fixings to take out a handful of green grapes to eat with my lunch. At that moment, I created a work of art so fine that Jackson Pollock would likely rave about it.

The creation was a result of my not wearing what I should be wearing and something on the counter that shouldn’t be on the counter.

I have learned my lesson.   I’m moving forward, my career as an artist over.

All three of these incidents happened earlier in the week.  Every day I’ve sworn I was going to write about them.  But in this universe of horror, time flies by so quickly and escapes me.  Today, I said, today is the day, but as someone who wears oxygen for pulmonary issues, I got all caught up in the story about whether POTUS had dips in oxygen.  It’s not often this is talked about and I was interested.  It made me wonder what my daytime oxygen was, so I checked it and it was 89.  Damn, I thought, that’s pretty bad considering I’m on three liters of oxygen.  I did my pursed-lipped breathing and I checked it again, and it was only 92.  Then I started to get upset and worried about it.

At my last visit, my pulmonologist increased me from 2 to 3 liters.  These numbers were freaking me out.  I went out into the kitchen to check on a stew I’m making for dinner.  I passed Big Tanko (the 40-lb machine that I’m tethered to in the house) and noticed THAT HE WAS NOT TURNED ON.  Yes, this is a cautionary tale.  I am slowly losing my mind, but I’m fully dressed, oxygen saturation at 99% (just checked in) and grateful that those are my biggest problems. -30-