Tag Archives: memoir

Riding out the storm-don’t try this at home

I moved from sunny Southern California to Louisiana the first time in 1962 when my husband—I’ll call him Bill for privacy reasons—was discharged from the military. I disliked the year-round rains. My first brush with a hurricane three years later churned deeper emotions of fear and hate.

We lived about 300 miles north of the predicted landfall location of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, so I expected heavy rains. I could get through it with Bill’s help. But he was sent to the devastated coastal area to restore electrical utilities. I was home alone. I mopped up water from incessant rain that oozed in around the windows, ran down the walls, and puddled on the floor.

I breathed easy when we moved back to California in the late sixties —nothing to fear but wildfires winds and earthquakes. The Santa Ana winds dropped ashes from the 1970 Laguna Fire in our yard in Irvine, but no sparks. The Sylmar quake the next year shook me out of bed, but no major damage. One evening two years later, Bill said, “It’s getting too crowded here—too many people—we’re going home.”

“Home” was a disappointment. Low-paying jobs, heat, humidity, and unending rains filled my days. We moved to Southeast Louisiana where the pay was better but the rains were worse. Then we met Hurricane Andrew, a projected Category 5 hurricane in 1992. “Don’t worry,” Bill said, “it’ll slow down once it hits Florida. All we’ll get is  rain.”  Andrew swept westward. We were in the direct path.

Andrew strengthened back to a Category 5, then downgraded as he stormed our way. The voluntary evacuation order came to our parish (county to all you who aren’t familiar with Louisiana vocabulary). I left work in Baton Rouge and crept toward home in the outbound traffic. Bill was nailing sheets of plywood over the windows. “Are you almost ready to go?” I asked. “If I don’t stay looters will take all my shop tools. Gonna ride it out,” he said.

I would have felt safer in the truck high above flooded streets, but I tossed my tote and a bag of snacks in my sedan. In case Mississippi hotels were full, I added a sleeping bag, a pillow, and bottled water for shelter survival. Weather news said Andrew had slowed to a Category 4 when it hit the Bahamas. “No sense paying an extra hotel night,” Bill said. “Wait till tomorrow and see what happens.” The next morning, voluntary evacuation was replaced by a shelter-in-place order.

I peeked through silver duct tape crisscrossed on the kitchen door window panes. A neighboring pine bent double in obeisance to Andrew, the 80-foot tall branches touching our gravel driveway before returning upright, only to repeat the same bow. My view of the front yard through the kitchen window showed the ancient oak standing its ground. Between peeks outside, I hovered near the television watching the devastation Andrew had left in his path—until the lights flickered and we were left in the dark.

Without electricity we had no water from the subdivision well. We were campers, so we had prepared. We brought in buckets of rainwater from the wooden barrel for the bathrooms. We turned on the portable radio. We set up the Coleman camp stove. That evening we ate by light of the Coleman lantern. Sleeping in the heat of a boarded-up home was impossible. We soon used the last of the dozen radio batteries and the propane canisters. Then the phone died. We were cut off from everybody—our wise neighbors had evacuated.

The morning after Andrew moved on, we stood on the front porch, sheltered from the heavy rain, accessing the damage. A downed power line entangled in a massive limb severed from the strong oak sprawled across our driveway near the street. Bordered by a deep drainage ditch, we were still captives.

After a frustrating week, the rain stopped, and a utility crew arrived on our street. Their small gas-powered saw was no match for the oak limb. The saw stalled, then the chain broke. They borrowed our chain saw. My husband offered to do the first cuts. “That oak is tough,” he said. They refused citing insurance liability. He stepped back while they powered up his replacement. They made a few cuts before they broke his saw.

There were no looters in our country neighborhood. The chain saw was the only loss.

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Christmas Candy

Shopping CartAt 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. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal bin on the hanging scale into a small brown paper bag. He calculates the weight, multiplies it by the price per pound, and writes the total in his notebook.Lard can

After each of the infrequent grocery trips, the food is put away in the kitchen, then Papa goes into the cellar. From the dining room, I hear the scrape as he drags out the metal can and a distinct pop when he opens the lid. Then the familiar sounds of the lid snapping back in place and noises of pushing the heavy can back under the steps.

Chocolate-drops

On the next shopping trip, Papa hesitates at the open bin of chocolate drops. He scoops, then pours the confections into the smallest paper bag. He weighs it, calculates the price and enters it into his notebook.

Papa’s favorites are the white centers. His second choice is pink. The pink tastes strong to me, more like soap or bubble bath than candy. The plain are good, but I like the lemon yellow or maple brown fillings.

small-brown-paper-bag

At home, Papa follows his ritual as he carries the tiny bag of chocolate drops toward the cellar door. My mouth waters. I ask for one. “No” is his stern reply. I watch him pull open the trap door and descend. I listen for the familiar metal scrape, the air pop, and the returning push that seals his answer. No chocolate today.

PieThe next day, aromas drift from the kitchen throughout our small house. Mama is cooking chicken and dressing, baking sweet potatoes and making pies. While she works, Papa disappears into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the cans, then closes the trap door.

I plead for the chocolate drops. Mama intercedes, and surprisingly, Papa agrees. One chocolate drop is offered to each of us twins. The aroma of my carefully chosen nugget is stronger than pungent sage and other spicy smells from the stove. I close my eyes and bite slowly into the candy, hoping for the luscious taste of lemon or creamy maple. Ugh! The soapy taste of pink! I swallow it in disappointment.

Glass candy dish with lidPapa fills the lidded glass candy bowl with chocolate drops, off limits until Christmas. No more pink for me. Tomorrow, when no one is watching, I will prick the bottom of each chocolate drop with a toothpick searching for lemon yellow fillings.

Tomorrow is Christmas.

Merry Christmas-Snowman

 

Excerpts from “Christmas Candy” from Double Take (Released December 2014) by Vi Parsons and Violet Moore. Purchase AUTOGRAPHED books from Carr Twins & Co. website, or buy from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0978923642 .

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Say that again

Pill BottleHeart

In a search for heart medication information, I read this this important warning.

Do not take this medication if you have ever had a heart attack without first consulting your physician.

What if I don’t have time to get my physician’s permission before I call nine one one?

But, of course, the message was a warning that anyone with a history of heart attacks should avoid this medication. It’s a simple case of a misplaced modifier.

How about this twisted sentence?

Shoes

 

 

The new student sat in the corner seat wearing blue running shoes.

Wish I could have seen that chair tying its shoes.

Special thanks to Dr. L. Kip Wheeler, Carson-Newman College, Jefferson, Tennessee for these two hilarious examples of misplaced modifiers.

Thief

 

The robber was described as a six foot-tall man with brown hair and blue eyes and a mustache weighing 150 pounds.

That thief must have had a difficult time carrying the mustache and the loot.

 

Dog pulling luggage

 

The time had come to leave at last. Deciding to pack up for college, my dog stared sadly at me as I bustled about the room.

His dog packed up for college? I couldn’t get my dog to put her toys in the box.

My twin and I have spent a few hectic weeks editing short stories for Double Take, our shared memoir about growing up in the California San Joaquin Valley. I know some readers will stumble over that Spanish name, so I decided to insert a simplified hint in the press release.

Vi Parsons and Violet Moore, the Carr Twins, reminisce about their childhood, recounting similar memories of growing up in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley (pronounced san‑ wä‑ˈkēn).

The hint looks out of place following Valley. Where should I add the pronunciation key? I’ll check Wikipedia.

 San Joaquin Valley /ˌsæn hwɑːˈkiːn/

Hmmm. The Wikipedia authors don’t know how to pronounce San Joaquin either.

 

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Truth or Consequences

Two microphones

Truth or Consequences was one of my favorite radio programs, although I seldom heard more than snatches of the broadcast. We had no television in our home, so radio was our entertainment source after school and on Saturday mornings. Papa (my father) reluctantly gave permission for me to listen to Sky King, Lum and Abner, Fibber McGee and Molly, Let’s Pretend, and other gentle programs while he was at work or gardening outside. In evenings and on Sundays, Papa commandeered the tuning dial, moving the right-hand knob on our table radio like a train engineer headed to the end of the line. Papa gave an extra twist to silence the voice of Ralph Edwards.  When I pleaded to listen to just one contestant’s question, Papa sometimes hesitated, hand on the knob, ready as if navigating a lifeboat in treacherous waters. He scoffed at the ridiculous questions, the quick buzzer, and the canned laughter as a waste of time and electricity.

Hour glass-animated

Reminiscs sent me scurrying to my computer. An online search rewarded me with Truth or Consequences information. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_or_Consequences, last accessed August 21, 2014)

Truth or Consequences is an American television show originally hosted on NBC radio by Ralph Edwards (1940–1957) and later on television by Edwards (1950–1954), Jack Bailey (1954–1955), Bob Barker (1956–1975), Bob Hilton (1977–1978) and Larry Anderson (1987–1988).”

Ralph Edwards (1940-1957)

The cemetery-hopping, family gravesite researcher in me recoiled at the dates in parentheses. Ralph dwards died at age seventeen?

R.I.P.

The dreaded Truth or Consequences buzzer sounded before I could comprehend that the writer (definitely not a genealogist) had a different purpose within those parentheses. With no radio dial to twist to silence the imaginary canned laughter, I had only one option.

Close Button

Papa would have been proud of me.

 

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Paper Dolls

computer-books-pencils

FICTION

In my draft novel Next of Kin, my protagonist Taylor Madrid is haunted by dreams of two girls playing in their mother’s clothes. She sees herself, tiny hands clutching folds of a long skirt lifted above her knees, feet stumbling in high heels. The other girl’s face is partially obscured by a long, swirling scarf draped over her head, flowing to the floor. Taylor awakes before she learns the other girl’s identity.

No

FACTS

My twin and I never (repeat, never) played dress-up in our mother’s clothes. Her few dresses were hung in a small closet we wouldn’t dare open because it also contained our father’s meager clothing. Mother’s daily wardrobe was a limited choice of shirtdresses. Her church clothes were somber colored, matronly styles, always two-steps behind modern fashions. Black, brown, gray, and an occasional dark green were no comparison to the pastels, deep magentas, turquoise, and bright yellows worn by paper dolls.

Hour glass-animated

FADED MEMORIES

My paper dolls were movie stars with curvy figures wearing shorts, tennis dresses, strapless evening gowns, and two-piece swimsuits that Papa would not allow in our home in real life. A few cutouts had boas or mink hats and furs long before it was polite to say no animals were harmed in creating the accessories. I like to think I wielded scissors with the deftness of an artist, but truth invades memories of my tiny hands often slicing through fold-over tabs that held the costumes to the paper doll’s body. Sitting on the linoleum floor in my homemade clothes, I dressed my Betty Grable and Jane Russell paper dolls and dreamed of the day I would wear high-fashion clothes.

Betty Grable Paper Dolls

FASHION

Our (I switch to plural here because Mother insisted her twins dress alike) first full shopping venture introduced fashion into our home. From the shiny taffeta material to the cap sleeves on the dresses to trendy spectator pumps and matching clutch purses, we blossomed into fashion stars. Our father’s disapproved of bare arms, our foray into modern style. Mother rescued us with her sturdy treadle sewing machine. Crisp white organdy jackets with pointed turn-back collars kept us as fashionable as our paper dolls; our arms covered but visible through the sheer material.

Angel Wings-Halo

In my father’s presence, and for church, I was a respectable girl. Out of sight, I slipped off the jacket and relished my own paper-doll moment.

 

Fiction + Facts + Faded Memories + Fashion = Memoir

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Embellishments-Fact or Fiction, Act Two

In “Embellishments, Fact or Fiction?” my previous blog about writing memoirs, I asked this question:

 If you were reading the story about surprise twins, the last of nine children, which quote you would attribute to our father, whether true, false, or embellished?

  1.  “We’ll make do.”
  2. “Two more mouths to feed.”
  3. “The Lord will provide.”

 

Congratulations to Lani Longshore who replied, “A blunt and practical man would say, “Two more mouths to feed.” Not only did Lani choose the right answer, her “blunt” and “practical” description of my father was tailor-made for him.

 

I’m told that when my mother insisted a few years later that growing twins couldn’t sleep on quilt pallets any more but needed a real bed, my father’s replied “Make do until the Lord provides.”

Growth arrows

The first bed I remember sleeping in had a tall headboard―at least it looked tall to me measuring by my 46 inches from the floor to the top of my head.  The matching footboard was shorter; both with iron tubing swirled into a pattern, decorative knops from side to side, slathered with dark green enamel paint. Unpainted steel rails extended down each side and created a framework for slats of wood laid crosswise that held the mattress in place. The three-quarter size mattress with striped ticking cover was lumpy, but it looked good covered with white sheets and one of Mama’s handmade quilts. We were delighted to have our own bed.

QuestionWe must have slept in somebody’s bed before the exciting day one of my brothers arrived with the bedstead pieces on a mattress roped to the top of his car, side railings protruding at an angle out the passenger window, and board slats peeking out of the partially open, tied-down trunk. He reassembled the bed in the room my twin and I shared with our older sister. I slept in that bed with my twin until our teen years when we outgrew it and had to upgrade to a full-size bed.

This is a true story, a bare-facts memoir without embellishments. At least, that’s the way I remember it.

 

 Violet Carr Moore, author and editor, helps writers attain their publication dreams.
Along the way, she weaves her legacy with pearls of wisdom and mystic moments.

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Embellishments – Fact or Fiction?

Just as lace or glittering trim defines a designer outfit,

fictional embellishments to true stories give them sparkle.

My eyes lingered on this pearl of wisdom while shredding notes from past Las Positas College writing classes. There was no attribution for this aging handwritten note. Perhaps it was a quote from the instructor, or my response to a class activity when she asked us to define creative nonfiction.

An embellishment, I learned, is an exaggeration or glorification of the simple truth to bring a story to life. Not full-grown lies, but tiny white ones, bursting through the soil of harsh truth and budding above fallow ground. These additions bring sparkle to a story like shimmering sequins hand-stitched to a basic Mardi Gras gown. They transform a sluggish truth to the cadence of a marching band. They soar like a bright-colored balloon caught up in strong winds.

Balloons

My father detested fiction or the slightest deviance from facts. A man of few words, he taught me to tell the truth, and punished me when I didn’t. To say he was stressed years before that word soared to the top of the charts describes his hidden anxieties. Assuming that he worried about basics like housing and food was true—a major concern during those Great Depression years. Perhaps he would have agreed with a simple nod if someone had said he showed no excitement at my birth. Yet none of these statements enhance a story.

The listener in a story-telling session, or the reader engrossed in a biography, wants to know my father’s reaction to unexpected twins born twenty-five years after his first child, almost a year after his first grandchild. They want to hear his words when he first saw two identical babies sleeping on a single pillow. Long after my father died, I asked my older siblings about his attitude at that surprise. I wanted to know what he said.

Words

One of my older brothers remembered many of our father’s words but interchanged the corresponding events. One sibling insisted that that our religious father’s spoke a similar mantra for every financial crisis. One sister, a fifteen-year-old present at the birth and with a sharp memory in later years, discounted the others with her version. If you were reading the story about surprise twins, the last of nine children, which quote you would attribute to our father, whether true, false, or embellished?

  1. “We’ll make do.”
  2. “Two more mouths to feed.”
  3. “The Lord will provide.”

Post your reply in Comments and tell me why.

 

Violet Carr Moore, author and editor, helps writers attain their publication dreams. Along the way, she weaves her legacy with pearls of wisdom and mystic moments.

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