Category Archives: Memoir

July 4 Celebration

My mother was afraid of deep water, a fear she transmitted to me early on. In spite of that, my married siblings insisted on celebrating Independence Day fishing from the banks of the San Joaquin River or picnicking beside a clear stream in the foothills. It was a break for adults to escape a mundane workday and for kids to have fun splashing in the water. Mama kept a watchful eye on me. If I ventured into water above my knees, she waded beside me and kept a firm grip on the back of my clothes. All that changed on July 4, 1954.

That morning, we dressed in our finest, buckled our polished shoes, and walked to church. My brother, Frank, and his family were there when we arrived. His youngest son, James Henry, sat in a far corner, arms folded across his chest, head down.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked Homer, his teen brother.

“He wanted to go to the river today, but Dad made us come to church.”

“Same for us,” I said. “Church comes first on Sundays. James should know that.”

“We always go to the river on his birthday, so coming to church today was bad enough. Then things got worse.” Homer looked toward James. “He’s nine today and he just found out that all this time we’ve been celebrating Independence Day on July 4, not his birthday.”

 

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Type-ins for Writers

Type-ins are the newest writing frenzy according to Associated Press News (AP) . Writers, poets, and typewriter enthusiasts gather to click keys and roll out paper originals. Could this no-screen craze be the next eye-saver?

Mr. Clyde Quick, my high school typing teacher, agreed. He insisted that his students focus on an oversized keyboard poster centered above the chalkboard to learn touch typing. “Look up,” was his first mantra. His second was, “Keep your hands on the home row.”

My hands hovered above the keyboard of a manual Underwood desk typewriter, left index fingertip touching the “F” key and right index finger on “J,” ready for “Begin.” Later, when the tests were timed for Word per Minute (WPM) achievement awards, Mr. Quick held his stopwatch high and added a little frenzy to the race with “Go!”

Now and then I was fortunate enough to grab a seat behind a manual Royal —much smoother touch than the Underwood.  One morning, two new typewriters, one Royal and one Underwood, shined atop the table in the last row, strategically placed to avoid tripping over the cords plugged into a nearby electrical wall socket. The typewriters weren’t assigned, so the athletic sprinters beat me to those seats most of the time. One day, with an admonition from Mr. Quick to let every student have a chance, it was my turn on the Royal with green keys. No extra pressure for the pinkies to produce a clean, even text. The short return carriage lever made right margin end-of-the-line faster. I fell in love with my first taste of technology. Returning to the stiff manual typewriter was difficult, but it had a side benefit. The electric typewriters were off-limits for achievement tests. I was one of the few who received the coveted 60 WPM level with no errors on a manual Underwood.

Long after my school days, I bought a portable Smith Corona, then upgraded to a full-size IBM Selectric. I was fascinated with the interchangeable typeball fonts and added several to my collection. The Selectric self-correcting feature was fabulous. I pressed a special backspace key, and the letter lifted off the printed page, ready for the correct keystroke.

Thanks to Mr. Quick’s fairness and my few sessions on that electric Royal typewriter, I embraced technology. Now, decades later, I’ve abandoned paper markups to edit on screen with Microsoft Word tracking feature. I delete, insert, or move text and add side comments to the author with soft clicks.

I still follow Mr. Quick’s advice and keep my fingers on the home row of my Dell laptop. His advice to “Look Up” means keep my eyes on the screen.

 

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A Different Kind of Mayday

Mayday is the universal emergency distress signal. Every pilot or captain knows the word but hopes to never have to utter Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Long ago, or as some fairy tales begin, once upon a time, May Day was a happy occasion. Near the end of April, Mrs. Buffington, my first-grade teacher, distributed construction paper, scissors, and glue. She showed us how to fold the paper into a triangle or a diagonal shape, somewhat like a flattened ice cream cone. When the glue dried, she punched a hole on either side with an awl. If the hole wasn’t large enough for the ribbon pieces she had cut for handles, she pushed a sharpened #2 lead pencil point up to the yellow paint. When the dismissal bell rang, I took my basket home, eager to surprise an unsuspecting neighbor on May Day—sometimes called May Basket Day.

Early on the morning of May 1, my mother gathered a few spring flowers still wet with dew, cut the stems the right length to stand up in my basket, and arranged them so the paper wouldn’t tear when I hung the basket.  Off I went, skipping diagonally across the street where an elderly lady lived. My goal was to make a clean getaway and peek around our front boxed hedges to see her delight. I hung the basket on the uncooperative screen door handle and pressed the doorbell. I pivoted, hopped down the steps, and ran like a wild banshee—a term one of my nephews assigned to my gallop—arms flapping like a baby bird trying to get airborne.

Before I reached the street, a voice behind me stopped me. (Who knew old people could get to the door that quick?) I turned back. She stood in the doorway without noticing the basket dangling sideways on the screen door. “I caught you,” she said. “Why are you ringing my doorbell so early and running away?” I had to go back, take the basket off the door, and hold it up where she could see the flowers.

The next May Day, a wise second-grader, I chose our next door neighbor as my target. I hung the flower-filled paper basket, hit the doorbell, and high-tailed it across the wet grass home. Mission accomplished.

I never knew if they found the basket before the flowers wilted from the heat because I couldn’t see their front door from my safe hiding place on our front porch.

 

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Reader’s Digest Research behind Times

First, a clarifier. RD is always behind the times because that’s the magazine’s goal—to collect information about things that have happened. So I’m not whining about Brandon Specktor waiting for research before publishing “50 Everyday Mistakes and How to Fix Them.” No, this is about exploring tasks that didn’t need research.

Take #39 for example. The American Academy of Dermatology advises that children ages 6-11 don’t need a daily bath. Once or twice a week is plenty. No need to spend time and research grant funds to learn that. My mother already knew that.

Back then our 20-gallon water heater was sufficient to fill a galvanized #3 wash tub at least to the half-ring. Mama centered the tub in the kitchen floor and carried pots of water from the faucet at the sink. In went the first kid with a washcloth and a bar of soap. Out with that child wrapped in a towel and in with the second child while the water was still warm. Different wash cloth. Same bar of soap. In between, Mama kept a teakettle of hot water just in case the first child soaked too long.

Then we modernized with indoor plumbing. I was proud of a flushable commode. No more trips to the outhouse in the dark. And that new claw-foot tub was a gleaming jewel. The main difference in the routine was less work for Mama. No more filling and emptying the bathtub. Hot water flowed from the spout at the beginning. Each bather pulled the chain attached to a round rubber plug to let the water flow down the drain when finished.

My ritual for a weekly bath began when I draped the thin washcloth over the side of the tub, dropped the floating Ivory soap into the water, and stepped into the tub. I sat a few minutes, then I lay back like floating in a swimming pool. I kicked my feet and thrashed my arms in a make-believe backstroke. In that tub, a child afraid of deep water, I became an Olympic swimmer. My glory ended too soon when all that activity chilled the water—and me.

Now here’s something Mr. Specktor might look into. Do children in age group 6-11 who play in the bathtub release more endorphins that reduce stress and delay depression?

 

Reference: Reader’s Digest, April 2017, page 71, print edition

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Wearing of the Green – a Day to be Irish

St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast observance on the supposed date of death of a patron saint (c. AD 385–461), missionary  to Ireland. That continues for a few. For the rest of us, this day is about luck, prosperity, a bright future, and wearing of the green.

My childhood memories of St. Patrick’s Day were filled with stories about green clover, leaping leprechauns, and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These traditions were handed down to me at school or by friends, even from window shopping at local stores, but not at home.

I grew up during the “pinching days.” If no green was visible, childhood friends pinched the other child on the arm. Emerald green wasn’t a color in the homemade wardrobe Mama sewed for her young twins. If I forgot to pin a clover from our yard to my dress, I became the most pinched girl of the day.

When I married a Moore who relished his Irish ancestry, St. Patrick’s Day became a joyful time without the pinches. Decades later when I became a foster parent, construction paper clover and leprechaun stickers resurfaced. I baked cookies sprinkled with shimmering green sugar. I added drops of green food coloring to dinner dessert. It was fun to be Irish for a day. Then single again, I continued to sport the tiny plastic shamrock I’d worn for more than twenty years. Last March I lost it while shopping.

My twin participated in the Parker lineage DNA project. The results were surprising. Thomas Bryant Parker, our second great grandfather, was Irish. Now that I have a drop of Irish blood in me, perhaps I’ll buy a new shamrock pin.

Oh, yes. I’m one clover leaf ahead of St. Patrick because history says he was Romano-British, not Irish.

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Happy Cock-a-doodle-do New Year

rooster-2017

chinese-cheongsam-patternNeighbors in my senior apartment community celebrated the Chinese lunar New Year 2017 yesterday. A few sang solos in Mandarin while others danced. They floated across the floor dressed from traditional Chinese to casual California. I salivated from the aroma of Chinese food while a costumed woman stood in front of the buffet and welcomed all. She explained the traditions associated with the holiday. A woman dressed in an embroidered cheongsam translated into her broken English for those who understood no Mandarin.

Before the speech, the man sitting next to me had told me in his slow English that this was the year of the cock—something I already knew. Then he explained that a cock is a rooster—something I knew too well from my childhood.

chicken_crossingNeighbors had green lawns topped with badminton nets or metal croquet hoops stabbed into the grass. We had a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and a chicken pen. While people on both sides of us lounged on patio chairs, played games and barbecued in the back yard, my parents labored for our food.

Mother enjoyed raising the chickens, but her favorite activity was taking care of newborn chicks. In storms—back when it rained frequently in California—she braved the rain and lightning to check the safety of the chicks. Perhaps her motherly nature, but maybe so they would grow into laying hens and produce eggs for our table.

Our Leghorn rooster had aged, so Mama added a Bantam Rooster to the flock. The Banty was a series of reds—the color of the Chinese New Year although we didn’t know it then—opposed to the stark white feathers of the Leghorn. His only contribution to the Chinese tradition was a fiery red comb that centered his head splitting jealous eyes as he watched the small rooster invade his kingdom. The Leghorn crowed strong every morning, earlier than usual it seemed, or perhaps to show his dominion of the chicken yard.

Although I didn’t like chickens and stayed away from the pens as much as possible, I loved Mama’s chicken recipes. One evening I snuggled under several of Mama’s quilts after gorging on chicken and dumplings and fried pies. The next morning, the Bantam rooster crowed his version of cock-a-doodle-do to announce a new day.

At the Chinese celebration buffet yesterday, I spooned the vegetarian dishes onto my plate and skipped the chicken.

Fortune Cookie-Pixabay

 

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Noble Nuts

shelled-walnuts-cashews-pixabayChomping on a handful of cashews and almonds today reminded me of my father’s penchant for buying nuts for Christmas. Here’s a glimpse from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014), a memoir I have retold many times, many ways, many years.

 

At Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells or blemishes. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal scoop into a small brown paper bag, then transfers the bag to the hanging scale. He checks the weight, calculates the price, and writes it in his notebook.

At home after the meager groceries are unloaded and put away, Papa takes the small brown bag of walnuts and disappears into the cellar through the trap door in the dining room floor. I hear him place the bag into a metal can. He returns empty handed.

As the holidays approach, my brother Clyde brings almonds from the orchard near his home. Papa adds Brazil nuts and filberts and deposits all into the can.

This morning, Papa goes into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the can. Today is Christmas.

 

walnut-cracker-basket-pixabymixed-nuts-bowl-pixabayMy father’s holiday snacks required a long wait from the time they were sealed in a 25-gallon storage can in the cellar until Christmas morning. A nutcracker and picks were always nearby in the kitchen, but Papa retrieved a hammer from the handmade wooden toolbox in the cellar. My nephews cracked the almonds and English walnuts in their strong hands and freed the Brazil nuts and filberts with a single tap of the hammer. I tried my luck at both. I had to use the hammer to open all but the almonds. My awkward slams resulted in nut pieces, seldom a half or whole nutmeat.

I purchased shelled ready-to-eat nuts for the holidays. I ignored my father’s disdain of peanuts at Christmas, but I didn’t mix them with the others. After all, peanuts are legumes, not noble nuts.

peanuts-pixaby

 

 

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