Category Archives: Memoir

Man on the Moon

Today, July 20, 2019, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. As many reflect on this historic event, I remember well the day of the blast off from Cape Canaveral on July 16, 1969.

My mother was visiting with me in my new home in the planned community of Irvine, California, on launch day. Before I left for work that morning, I showed her how to change TV channels so she could see the best views of the Saturn V rocket liftoff with astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins.

Televisions and radios were taboo at the Santa Ana bank where I worked on the lower floor of the three-levels with no reprieve even for this historic event. But we received glowing reports from what customers had told employees on the main banking level. My anticipation of watching a news replay kept me moving all day. That is, until the Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5 South) presented its evening snarl.

I pulled my car into the garage and scampered through the connecting door to the living room. I sat on the couch beside my mother just as a replay showed the rocket launch followed by Walter Cronkite’s words, “What a moment! Man on the way to the moon!”

“Those poor boys,” Mother said with a headshake. “That’s the fourth time they’ve sent them off today.”

 

 

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Whose birthday celebration?

My Independence Day memories zero in on waterside family picnics. Married brothers and brothers-in-law carried ice chests through weeds, across rocks, toward a flatter surface of gravel and gritty sand. Gladys, my oldest brother’s wife, stepped carefully while she guarded a homemade birthday cake for James, her third child. The other ladies carrying fried chicken, bowls of potato salad, plates of deviled eggs, and other picnic foods dodged children, including me, who were dashing unencumbered toward the gentle river. Children frolicked in the water while the ladies spread the food and shooed away the flies. A few fellas tried their hands at fishing upstream of the children, but a fish fry seldom happened.

One Fourth of July when James was about nine or ten, the family scattered different places, some with in-law families, some with friends. Some, like James’s father, chose to do farm work, then grill burgers and hot dogs in the evening. James was devastated.

“But what about my birthday picnic?”

“We’ll have cake at home after supper,” his mother said. “Just us.”

“But, school’s out for the summer, and the whole family always takes off work because it’s my birthday.”

Gladys shook her head in dismay. “Fourth of July was the birthday of the United States long before you were born. We don’t work on the Fourth of July because it’s a holiday.”

“You mean like Jesus’s birthday when we all eat at Grandma Carr’s on Christmas day? Not because July 4 is my birthday?”

         Find A Grave Photo

 

This Fourth of July, I decorated my front porch railing with wired flag ribbon and secured a hand-size flag to my metal security door with a white chenille wrap. I lunched alone at In-N-Out Burger. This evening, I watched the city fireworks from the sidewalk a half-block from home surrounded by people I don’t know shrouded in the darkness. My last thoughts as I returned home was how that simplicity might have been James’s choice if he were still living.

 

Happy birthday, America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June bugs, Little Orphan Annie, and Leapin’ Lizards

It is the month of June,
The month of leaves and roses,
When pleasant sights salute the eyes,
And pleasant scents the noses.

Nathaniel Parker Willis

Mr. Willis didn’t mention June bugs. Perhaps because he was a Yankee (no offensive intended) who spent much of his time in New York.

Wikipedia defines a June bug: “Cotinis nitida, commonly known as the green June beetle, June bug or June beetle, is a beetle of the family Scarabaeidae.”

My dislike of June bugs is not poetic. They left June, the month of leaves and roses, with an unpleasant sight to my eyes—devastation in my garden.

They hid in the daylight, waiting until I went inside in the evenings to can or freeze the vegetables I had harvested. They targeted me when I rested on the front porch swing. They swarmed toward the floodlight when I ventured to the back yard to dump the trash. But I finally rid myself of those pests. Not with pesticides. By moving to Northern California.

I propped open my front door to enjoy the fresh air. Leapin’ Lizards! James Whitcomb Riley never put Little Orphan Annie in danger like this. I am invaded by geckos. The late spring rains push the lizards inside to dry comfort. Not the cute little critter from the insurance company ads. Skinny, from babies to foot-longs, they slip through the smallest gap where my security screen door doesn’t reach the metal threshold.

I haven’t seen an alligator since I departed Louisiana. I’m grateful my insect-eating invaders are petite compared to this AP news article about a full-size Florida reptile with an appetite for red wine.

 

 

 

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Shaped by Choices

Writing a story begins with a choice. What does the writer-in-me want to tell? That is balanced with the question, “What does the target audience want to read?”

I’ve made a lot of good choices in my life—and a few that didn’t reach that level. Some of those decisions shaped me like homemade playdough in the hands of a preschooler. I was punched, squeezed, rolled, and manipulated. Just when I thought I had reached my destiny, slam, bam. More pounding.

Julaina Kleist-Corwin, a writing instructor, gathered short stories about choices for an anthology. She extended the competition to former students and writers who had been published in her previous anthology. She read each 500-word submission and suggested changes. No pounding, punching, or squeezing. Then the writers were given the opportunity to reshape their stories. Most were memoirs. A few were fictionalized.

My memoir, “Second Chance,” is about my submission to an anthology being published by a well-known New York publisher. The book theme was true stories about Christmas miracles. No problem there. I had a story to tell.  I submitted it. Hooray! It was accepted with minor suggested edits. The congratulatory email said the next step would be to sign a publisher release form. I waited a few days. No form. Instead, an email suggested I revise my story. Playdough again.

“But that isn’t what happened,” I wrote to the developmental editor.  She gently rolled my story into shape to keep the facts and told me to sign the forthcoming release.

Two days before the deadline to sign the release, I received an email from the main editor, the one whose name would appear on the book cover. He added more fiction. “It makes a stronger story,” he said.

Slam, bam. Playdough. Only this time, I had a choice. Accept the change or insist on keeping the story as I wrote it.

What did I decide? Read about it in The Choice Matters.

 

 

Disclaimer: Julaina doesn’t know I’m including her Amazon book link in my blog, but I’m sure she’ll be delighted. The print edition and e-book are on sale at introductory prices.

 

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Filed under Editing, Memoir, Writing

Flying Holiday Flags

My father disliked holidays. My mother cherished them. My father’s rule was to treat every day equal. Mama made holidays something to remember. Not with elaborate decorations but from basics.

On New Year’s Day, we ate black-eyed peas and ham hocks with cornbread. Maybe because of Mama’s superstitious ways. Probably because there was no work for farm hands in the winter and that was the cheapest menu that would spread to two meals. I suppose the flag flew over the local post office and City Hall to declare it a holiday, but we didn’t venture out on that cold day.

The next month brought Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and George Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Flags flew again, on each day, declaring it a holiday, a day to stay home from school.

Spring brought Easter. Mama gathered eggs from our backyard chicken pen for several days. On Saturday, she filled an aluminum canning pot with water and carried it to the old gas range. She deposited the eggs one by one and hardboiled them. She rinsed the cooked eggs in the kitchen sink and spread them to dry on flour sack dishtowels on the mottled gray linoleum countertop. While the eggs cooled, she arranged a row of cups.  She filled the cups halfway with water, dropped one round colored tablet into each, and stirred until she achieved colors worthy of celebration. Hours later, the colored eggs rested in two Easter baskets, ready to be hidden in the yard for our personal egg hunt. Lots of fun but no flags.

On Decoration Day, we rode to the local cemetery with a brother-in-law to watch the somber task ahead. Young World War II veterans and a few survivors of World War I placed American flags on each veteran’s gravesite. A ceremony followed at ten o’clock. We listened to more somber words. Marines marched in precision, flower arrangements peeking between shined black shoes as they passed civilian graves along the paved route.

“Why, Mama?” I asked. “Why do those graves get flowers instead of flags?”

“Because it’s Decoration Day,” she said.

“It’s called Memorial Day now,” my brother-in-law said.

“Who named it that?” I asked.

“The gov’ment,” Mama said.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established June 14 as Flag Day. Not a holiday, but our neighbors displayed flags from the size on veterans’ graves to five-footers angled from flagpoles on porches. We would have joined them if we had owned a flag.

“Why all the flags? Is this another Decoration Day?” I asked.

“No, it’s Flag Day,” Mama said.

“Who named it that?”

“The gov’ment,” she said.

Armistice Day on November 11, brought another federal holiday. A somber tribute to the end of World War I in 1918 brought more parades and flags.

Today, May 27, 2019, is Memorial Day in the U.S. I clipped a six-inch flag to my door. There are no parades in the city where I live now. A few people will gather at the local cemeteries for brief ceremonies, a few words from a city official, and a military-style presentation of flags. Boaters fill the lake south of the city. Picnickers lounge in the sun, if it appears on this cloudy day. On the west side of town bordering a neighboring city, the freeway and city streets near the premium brands outlet mall are jammed with cars and tour buses transporting shoppers, some visiting from as far away as Asia.

Wait. Who moved Decoration Day from May 30 to the last Monday of May and renamed it Memorial Day?

My mother’s words echo the answer.

“The gov’ment.”

 

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Spring Rituals

Warm weather has replaced winter chills in Northern California. Spring is here.  I made the transition with my tradition of replacing flannel sheets with cotton. The switch brought memories of my first encounter with spring rituals in Louisiana. That introduction wasn’t the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival or the Étouffée Festival. It wasn’t fishing in a bayou where porcupine quills replaced my red and white plastic bobbers. It was my mother-in-law’s spring cleaning tradition.

One April Saturday shortly after my husband and I moved to Louisiana, she insisted that the throw rugs be cleaned. They were carpet style, not the crocheted rugs my mother made, so I vacuumed them. Not good enough.

“Carry them outside, hon, and hang them on the lines,” she said.

I pinned the smaller rugs to the clothesline and draped the larger ones over the stretched wire. She handed me a carpet beater and told me to whack the rug as hard as I could to get the dust out. I’d never spanked a rug before. Good exercise with little results on the stiff rugs.

She watched as I returned each rug to its proper location in front of rocking chairs and beside the beds. While we rested with a glass of iced sweet tea, she told me the beds needed airing. “A good housewife does this every spring,” she said. This was when mattresses were identical on both sides, so I stripped the beds. I fluffed the feather pillows and placed them on a chair near the open window. Not good enough. She told me to pin them to the clothesline to air the feathers.

Next, she instructed her husband and son to carry the mattresses to the backyard for “sunning.” Questions filled my mind like popcorn exploding over high heat. How long does sunning take? What if it rains? What about the flying insects and crawling bugs I had fended off at the Sunday barbecue?

When Maw-Maw, as her grandchildren called her, was satisfied that the mattresses had soaked up enough sun, my husband returned the mattresses to the beds. I finished the spring ritual just before dinner (that’s supper in Louisiana) with clean, sun-dried linens—after I brushed off a few flying insects that had chosen to nap on the clean sheets and pillows.

My spring tradition doesn’t follow her advice for a “good housewife,” but it does include celebrating with a cup of tea when the flannel sheets are put away.

 

 

 

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Punxsutawney Phil’s Weather Predictions

The second day of February isn’t a holiday, but tradition has named it Groundhog Day. After more than 130 years, Punxsutawney Phil continues to make his prediction of an early spring or six more weeks of winter.

That unreliable groundhog has been wrong more than half of those years. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because his mind must have been foggy when he was pulled from solitary darkness and held aloft before a large crowd of people.

Less than forty years ago, Staten Island Chuck, another groundhog, began his predictions. Chuck has a better record than Phil. Today, Phil and Chuck agreed on an early spring.

My father had his own weather prediction method. On Groundhog Day, he sat at the breakfast table in our kitchen warmed by the oven where Mama’s biscuits waited on the pulled-down door and consulted the Farmer’s Almanac. He checked the moon cycles and early planting dates before Easter. Often, when Phil predicted an early spring, my father shook his head in dismay and mumbled, “Six more weeks of high PG&E bills.”

 

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