Thursday, December 24, 2009

I was. I am.

With my 55th Christmas coming up, I have to admit that they all blend together, and they come around so much faster than they used to. I have watched the days click off in a different manner since I retired --- so rapidly that Christmas sneaked up on me like a bad pair of undies.

As a child we slugged it up Interstate 85 to visit my mother's family in Lynchburg, Virginia. My father was an only child, and his parents dead before he met my mother. My dad embraced my mother's sisters, four of which were unmarried, and they spoiled my siblings and me but loved us so as we were their only nieces and nephews.

My mother's two sisters who did get married were childless, and my mother's two brothers deceased, one in a car accident in 1940, another a suicide after WW2, a post tramatic syndrome hushed up around the family when we were kids -- a fact that I didn't know about until I was in college. It was always called "a shooting accident," and his wife, even though she remarried, was always a part of the family who was talked about, but her move to California making her elusive and mysterious to me.

We always drove up 85 -- my parents bundling us, still asleep, into the car way before dawn to get a beat on the traffic, and as my dad loved to say, "to make good time."

I'm sure they enjoyed the peace and quiet they got in the car before the four of us were awake and ready to pick at each other until somebody cried. My mother packed a lunch, and we would make a stop at a rest area or a road side table, sometimes shivering in our coats, where we ate bologna sandwiches, wrapped in wax paper, and potato chips that left the fingers greasy, before my mother doled out the single stick of Dentyne, the only gum she approved of since it cleaned the teeth.

That Dentyne was a treat -- I know, hard to beleive.

When we left really early, we were given one of the small packs of cereal, which we ate in the car for breakfast; I thought those little mini packs of cereal were fabulous -- it was the only time we were allowed sugary cereal such as Frosted Flakes or Cocoa Puffs. We had some serious fights over who got what cereal. I have no idea how those decisions were made. I'm sure it was diplomatic and fair. Eh.

Those little boxes were like crack to me -- but again, guarded like gold by my mother, a nutritionist who thought it was an addictive substance. We got one for the trip up and one on the way back. According to her, they were not a good way to spend your money.. "ridiculously expensive" she would comment.

Three of my aunts lived in a three-story house in Lynchburg, and another one would drive down from Washington DC to share, usually, a four day holiday together. We usually arrived the day before Christmas eve and left the day after Christmas -- or at least that's the way I remember it.

My aunt who lived in Washington worked for the CIA, and we loved the mystery and intrigue of that job since she never told us exactly what she did. I always imagined spies, flashlights, Communists, and blacklists with my aunt wearing a black, satin hat with a feather quill, smoking a cigarette [which she did], and burning secret files in the fireplace while her boss lurked in the shadows in the background.

When she died in 1994 and we were closing up her house and putting it up for sale, the only relic left from that career was a box full of blue fountain pens with US Government blazoned on the sides that we found in a desk drawer. This was the aunt that I was named for -- I will have to write a single blog on her at some time. She was smart, funny, and interesting.

She pulled one of those blue "government issued" pens from her purse when she wished to make a note, and we coveted those pens as kids -- she never gave them up readily. My mother called her "Hallie" growing up -- but somewhere along the line, my aunt put her foot down -- and she was called Harriett. Since that was her name, in my family, I was called "Harriett Sue," so that when we were all together, it was to distinguish to whom was being called or talked about.

My aunt was the only other Harriett I knew until I went to college. Harriett is still not a name common enough to be found on those cool plastic key chains you can buy at Stuckey's.


In that house in Lynchburg with its three floors, my family was spread out --- my parents slept in grandpa's room -- one of two bedrooms downstairs -- and before my grandparents died, my parents slept on the fold out couch in the living room --- my brothers were put on army cots in the basement, covered in old wool blankets smelling of moth balls and kerosene, and my sister and I slept upstairs, in the attic bedrooms that had slanted ceilings on the sides -- that as we grew, we had to "watch the head." We were tucked "under the eaves" on cots as well and weighted down with quilts that went back two generations.

That house was snug -- twelve of us, hunkered down for celebrating the holidays... and we shared two bathrooms. Lawd -- things were simple then, weren't they? Maybe we were under bathed.

My aunts decorated the house with a flair. Wreaths on the doors -- Christmas tree with handmade ornaments and crammed with gifts, wrapped festively, and red candles in the silver candelabra on the dining room table -- they always made the home as welcoming as a Christmas card.

We descending on them with our child loudness, our needy selves, and we hung out together and worked puzzles, ate, and celebrated the season.

I have nothing but fond memories except for the Christmas evening performance that my mother had made us practice for and perform for my grandparents and aunts. One time, she asked the folks of the Christmas letter to watch as well. [See two blogs ago...]
Egads. I just wanted to throw up.

My mother believed in us knowing the true meaning of Christmas -- the Luke 2 version --- and my oldest brother, who had a lovely speaking as well as singing voice, usually memorized the verses. Then my sister who could sing as well, my other brother, him too, and I, not so much, would be the supporting cast. We sang Christmas carols, carried candles, dressed up in Sunday finery, and performed something every year for my aunts and grandparents.

My mother was a perfectionist, not in the fact that she wished us to sing well cause, well cause you can't wish that, but in the performance itself.


We practiced this little act in Atlanta before we left, in the car on the way up, and in the basement before the event.

I dreaded these. I hated them. The only thing I liked was the cute little green or red velvet dress I got to wear with its huge bow, tied neatly in the back, the black patent leather shoes, that usually squeezed my toe, that I got to flaunt around, and my hair, curled and sprayed stiff by my mother, all fixed for the performance. I thought I was a pretty little girl, and I like to bat my blue eyes and flip my blond curls like I was the cat's meow.

It helped that I was the youngest -- the youngest is always the cutest -- but I must have been annoying as all get out.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I was. I am.

My aunts and my grandparents always clapped, took lots of pictures -- those floating dots from the flash adding to it all, and raved at the end about how great we were, how we were just so smart and so talented, and I know they must have just been wishing they had two more glasses of eggnog before we started to sing.

Maybe, they thought it was cute. Maybe they thought it was custom, tradition, and maybe, my mother had to do the same thing as a child, but

I was really happy when those things came to an end.

I'm not sure when it was. Maybe it was after my grandparents had died -- which was 1964 -- maybe it was when we quit making the trip to Lynchburg every year, and my aunts and parents began to alternate who makes the trip where -- they would come down here, we would go up there, but maybe it was when I got too big to be cute.


But when I think of Christmas eve -- I think of those performances, and how innocent, how simple, how totally lame they must have been --- but in some ways, I miss that kind of Christmas --

the cozy, up under each other, and totally together those Christmas were.

That generation -- my parents, my aunts --- have all passed on....:(

BTW: Now, in my family -- in memory of that little Christmas eve performance, we adopted an aspect of it for my own nieces and nephews. On Christmas eve when we are all together, we do "Stockings," which means that each of the oldest generation has put a tiny gift in each stocking.
The gifts are small and cheap -- candy, socks, puzzles --- that sort of thing, but all of us look forward to it because it is fun....

Any who---- we make them perform -- one year they had to sing a verse of a Christmas carol they knew by heart, one year they had to play a musical instrument (we regretted that assignment -- Gawd. I thought David was gonna bust a gut it was so painful), another year it was write a poem.... you get the idea.

We call it "Make You Worth Your Stocking." Now, the oldest is 26 and the youngest 18 -- we do it for the laughs -- and they are all good sports. Last year, my niece's fiancee, who is German, got in on the fun He probably just chalked it up to "Crazy Americans, " or he thought this is what all Americans do. LOL

I don't know how my mother would feel about this -- her focus was intentionally honorable -- ours, not so much.

Regardless, I miss those Christmases. The Christmases where you made you own entertainment, ornaments, fun -- and you were all stuck with each other for two days.

Wait. Maybe not.


Merry Christmas, my blog readers.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Elizabeth Gaffney's 2005 novel Metropolis compellingly details the corrupt, violent, and often ugly side of New York City after the Civil War.

The late nineteenth century was an interesting age in America, as she shoved off the setbacks of the war and turned her head to recreating herself. In this work of fiction, Metropolis follows the journey of a young German, Georg Geiermeier, seeking to make himself a life in the United States after shrugging off not only his old life and family but also his vocation as a stone cutter who once dreamed of building cathedrals.

On a cold March night, Geiermeir, recently off the boat Leibnitz, awakes to the smell of smoke and the sounds of animals stomping and whinying. Recently hired as a stableman for Barnum's, the noises send him into action as he tries to rescue the animals and alert other employees to the fire. In his attempt to rescue, he's fingered as an arsonist by the dastardly Luther Undertoe, a snitch, killer, and thief, who manages to commit crimes and then set others up for the fall. With a buddy on the police force, Undertoe, [I love the name btw] nicknamed by those who know him "The Undertaker," is the grittiest, lowest kind of villian -- a criminal who lurks in alleys and "rolls" victims for the thrill of it.

Even with his likeness in the paper, Geiermeir manages to elude Undertoe's plan for him to take the fall for the crime, and he slips into the crowded boroughs of New York City by using aliases and being adopted into the highly successful but secretive gang known as the Whyo and the Why nots who pull their own little scams on the populace of New York. In using the alias Frank Harris, Geiermeir works manual labor in New York as a street paver, a sewerman, and then finally a builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. Unbeknown to him, the Whyoes protect him from the police and Undertoe, who crazily seeks revenge on Geirmeir for getting away.

Gaffney's eye for detail, which is richly drawn, as well as her historical accuracy creates a believable as well as suspenseful novel of the less than savory side of a bustling city with a corrupt police force and underground organized gangs who ran like well-oiled machinery.

From the time he is indoctrinated into the gang and donned Frank Harris until the suspenseful ending, the reader will be lead down the streets of New York with its cast of immigrants, newly freed Negroes, and its powerful females beginning to assert themselves in a changing society.

Gaffney not only fully develops a love for the heroic Harris , but also a love for the minor characters who interact with Harris: pretty boy leader of the Whyoes Dandy Johnny Dolan,the benefactor Mr. Noes, and Beatrice O'Gahmna, the tough, smart, and resilient First Girl of the gang. The reader will find himself interested in all the stories -- including the feminist and quite aggressive Dr. Sarah Blackwell, a woman concerned about the need for hygienic filters in the sewers and contraceptives for the city's many prostitutes.

Gaffney's novel is a good one, but its density may not make it a good read for all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Outside Christmas Decorations Part 2

You know what else cracks me up about outdoor Christmas decorations?

The inflatables.


This Christmas season has been so windy, cold, and rainy -- that no doubt those inflattables have been over ended by the weather.

There is nothing better than waking up to inflatable butts mooning you from the neighbor's yard.

*tee hee*

Down the street from us, our neighbors have four inflatables in the yard -- a Santa, two snowmen, and a reindeer. Every morning for the past week when I go out, those things are blown down in the yard. The snowmen are the funniest to me because they are so big and white....

Funny stuff.

At least to me....

"Merry Christmas and All That"

I still send out Christmas cards through the mail. Yep. Snail mail.

I'm that old-fashioned. Sentimental.

Did Christmas greeting cards begin with the Victorians?
Sounds like them... but I dunno.

I love to receive the cards and look at the style, the size, the greeting, whether it is secular or religious. I like to see how they are signed -- if they are pre-printed -- or personally signed by the sender. Do they have glitter? Foil on the back of the envelope? Does this person know me? Or am I on their Christmas card list, and they have trouble remembering who I am?


I love Christmas letters.


As a kid, I used to love to look at the cards that my parents received. They had a wide range of friends from all parts of the United States. They received cards from my dad's Army friends from WWII and my mom's old roommates from college, friends that my parents had for fifty years, and when traveling, if they were in their town, would call and try to see.

For my parents, this was the only time they heard from some of their friends -- separated by distance and time and the busyness of families to raise, my parents cherished these cards and letters.

My mother would save the cards so that she could write in the next year's card and ask questions pertinent to what was happening the year before. She actually tied the Christmas cards from each year in a bundle and labeled them "Stephenson" or "Callahan." She would bundle the cards from "Flo" her best friend and put them in chronological order. They were stored in the attic in a box. Each year before sending out Christmas cards, she would reread the cards and letters from the year before...when she died, the cardboard box full of Christmas cards were in the attic and the last year that she lived labeled: "Stephenson 1994" on the outside of the envelope. It was fun to see how stamps and postage changed too. :)

During the Christmas season, my mother placed all the Christmas cards that she received in a crystal bowl and at night, she would sit down and look at the cards over and over. She loved keeping up with her friends. She would also show me cards that she found exceptionally pretty or sentimental.

My father would write the annual Christmas letter. He was a good writer -- succinct yet informative - and then my mother would write personal notes on the cards to her friends with more detailed information with what she wanted to tell them about her life --

but mostly she was asking them about what was going on in theirs. Sometimes, she would write such long personal notes that she needed to extend the notes to notebook paper. My mother's handwriting was hard to read, something she knew, so she took extra care to write legibly. She spent hours on those notes.


What a lost art -- and what a lost sincerity of heart...

When my parents died, we found our annual family Christmas letters in a file folder. They were dated back to the early 60s and each one was fun to read as my Dad devoted a short paragraph to each child... and then one about them. These letters were pounded out on an old Remington typewriter with a wonky "r." I have no idea how they were duplicated at the time -- but I do remember carbon paper... LOL.

These were the types of comments that my dad wrote about me:

"Harriett Sue is in 7th grade and spends as much time as we'll let her next door at her best friend's house. They ride their bikes everywhere and help the boys with their paper routes. "


"Harriett Sue broke her shoulder in a freak accident while at a church social. We were thankful that she wasn't hurt worse -- as the break was complicated and quite painful for her."


"As a tenth grader, Harriett Sue made the drill team, a dance team that performs at halftime at the football games. She keeps herself busy with that, her school work, and her time on the phone. In fact, the phone rings constantly, and it is always for her."

I used to love the Christmas letters written by my parents' friends. In retrospect, some of them were quite braggy and obnoxious, others simple and direct, yet empty of real information -- in fact, quite vague. One family included a picture every year -- the children growing up like one of those time lapse videos...

One set of my parents' friends were not only obnoxious on paper, but obnoxious when we saw them. They were the same nuclear family that we were --- four children, Army dad, wife --- but the difference was they had "money."

Money that they didn't mind reminding us of...

When we traveled once a year at Christmas to visit my grandparents, we got together with my dad's friend and his family, the obnoxious Christmas letter ones. They lived in the same town as my grandparents, and we always devoted one night to going to see them or they came to my grandparents's house. What I remember most is that we always had to wear Sunday dress to see them.


We got along well with their kids -- similar in age and interests -- we used to play serious competitive games -- "Spit" and "Stratego" and "The Game of Life" or my older brother and sister would listen to records with the older siblings there. I had a huge crush on the boy that was my age -- and thought him pretty "dreamy" at the time -- even though I could beat him easily at "Spit." I once remember exchanging kisses with him in the basement. I think I was twelve, and he was thirteen.


My parents would drink coffee and have coffee cake on the good china with the parents and did a lot of laughing.. and I remember the cigarette smoke that wafted from the living room where they were sequestered while the kids were sent off "to play" -- both of their parents smoked, mine didn't, and I thought it was so sophiscated to smoke.

With that said, I remember how obnoxious their Christmas letter was -- and I parody it here:

"Jimmy Jr., is captain of the football team and number one in his class academically. He has been recurited by five Ivy League schools with the promise of full scholarships. We are buying him a new expensive, custom made (just for his awesomeness) Ford Mustang when he graduates, of course, after he gives the valedictory address. He's by far the smartest young man in five hundred miles. We hate it for all of those people who dont' have this kind of son. Aren't we blessed?

Robin, our beautiful smart daughter, was crowned Class Favorite and won the Little Miss Tobacco Pageant. She is in demand by all the most promising boys in her class and Jimmy Jr.'s for dates. She has three John Romain purses and wears nothing but Villiager sweaters that she has in all sixteen colors. We are pretty sure that she will follow Jimmy Jr. in being the best thing her classmates have ever seen..."


You get the picture -- while meanwhile, my parents had reasons to brag about their own children, but never did. After all, I was one of them. :) They never mentioned to us in any way that the obnoxious Christmas letter people wrote about anything other than fact... they just read it and were happy and proud for them.

My parents really were such good people; they would be ashamed of how I mock.

Christmas letters -- you either write them or you don't. You either find them informative, amusing, or you don't.
Regardless, I believe that cards and letters will soon vanish from our culture and customs.

Do you send Christmas cards? Letters?

Just wondering -- cuz, that's what I do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My Father's Tears

As an English major at a small, private Methodist college in the 1970s, my courses in English were limited to the staples -- Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, British poetry, and early twentieth century American literature. As a graduate student, the choices included more variety -- Faulkner, Robinson and Frost, Dante, the Russians, French and German novels, and the poetry of John Donne. I finished my degrees in 1990, and I did not study for any of them -- anything written after 1960.

John Updike was not part of my collegiate course study, falling into that category of American writers of the latter part of the 20th century. I hope that current students enrolled in English classes now are assigned essays or short fiction by Updike, who will hold up to time as a significant American writer.

In the 1980s, a fellow teacher asked me if I had read the novels of Updike, most notably the ones called the Rabbit series, starring the small town athlete Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. Considering myself at the time a reader of fiction, I attempted to read one of them and found them slow --- too small town --- too male -- and perhaps too far from my own experience to be relevant - Rabbit's sexual conquests alone a little off putting, and Updike's pun not lost on me. :)

As a reader of The New Yorker for the last twenty years, I have read essays and short stories by Updike and grown to respect him as a writer -- finding not necessarily his political or religious views aligned with mine [after all he is a Yankee and a liberal ...LOL), but some of his social commentary is incisive and thought provoking.

In one of his essays in the fall of 2001, Updike wrote poignantly about the tragedy of 911, an event that he and his wife observed from their Manhattan apartment fourteen blocks away. His reporting on that event -- personal and poetic - moved me to tears. I actually kept the magazine that contains it.

His short fiction also appealed to me because he wrote nostalgically of his childhood and used his experiences effectively to relay his sheltered but interesting upbringing. Perhaps, I am old enough to appreciate what he has preserved for American fiction -- or maybe, in my humble opinion, this is his best form.

I doubt that I will try another of the Rabbit novels -- but I just finished My Father's Tears and other stories, a collection of the last short stories written by Updike, who died in January of this year, and apparently wrote up to the last days of his life.

Perhaps, I now feel a connection with Updike. Even though Updike was fifteen years younger than my own father, in the majority of these short stories, he made me think of my father and mother's generation. Born in the 1930s, Updike, an only child, grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania in the home of his grandparents. My father too was an only child and grew up in his grandparents home in a small town in Missouri...

but it is Updike's reminiscences of this era that make me think of my parents, especially my father, and the things he remembered from his own childhood.

Eighteen short stories made up this collection. Most of the stories had elderly protagonists -- their commonality -- wealth, ability to travel, and time on their hands. These characters thought about their past, sometimes the way they had wronged others, seemed confused about the fast paced world they lived in now, but were totally "okay" with being in the last years of their lives. Updike writes vividly about the infirmities of old age -- about the fears, the memory lapses, and the emotional pain that comes with outlasting your wife, your classmates, or even your children -- or about being unable to follow directions to an unfamiliar place.

I liked something about all of the stories; some of them stuck with me returning me to memories of my own parents' stories of growing up in the Depression as well as the problems they encountered as they aged. Whether Updike was recollecting the kitchen of his grandparents with details like "oilcloths, tin dippers, Bakelite phone, or "linoleum" or carefully illustrating the small town five and dimes with their "overhead pneumatic tubes and Philcos," he incorporated autobiography by using his childhood and young adulthood memory to tell these stories and give realistic pictures that only someone who had experienced it first hand could do. His vivid details were reminicient of the stories my parents told of their coming of age in the Depression, not in the shadow of it as Updike did. Regardless, Updike reinforced in his stories the impact of that time, a time that made a lasting impression on my parents and obviously Updike.

In the short story "My Father's Tears," he describes the train station of his youth, a place that "you felt safe inside... being built for eternity, when railroads ... looked to be with us forever. The station was a foursquare granite temple with marble floors, a high ceiling whose gilded coffers glinted through a coating of coal smoke. The tall-backed waiting benches were as dignified as church pews.... [but]within a decade passenger service to Philadelphia would stop and eventually the station, like railroad stations all across the East, would be padlocked and boarded up. The fine old building like an over sized mausoleum... all the life it had once contained ... sealed into silence, and for the rest of the century it ignominiously waited .. to be razed."

In this passage, Updike's description reminded me of the sentimentality that I listened to from my parents's generation of the rapidly changing and unpredictability of the future. They talked about train travel and train stations -- its romance, its adventure, and its being such a comfortable way to get from place to place -- much more than the automobile, which was mechanically unreliable -- plus, they were notorious for flat tires.

As a child, I rode the train from downtown Atlanta to my grandparent's home in Virginia -- leaving from a grand building very much like the one Updike brings to life in this story.

In "Free" he tells the story of an elderly man who did not appreciate his "boring" wife until she succumb to cancer, and he moved about for two years with the numbness of her absence. In yet another, "The Walk with Elizanne," he writes about a man going back to his fiftieth high school reunion and being embarrassed as a classmate he hardly remembers tries to takes him down memory lane, a vague and foggy place.

One short story, "Varieties of Religious Experiences," Updike imagines the experiences of the hijackers and one of their victims prior to their deaths in September of 2001 -- one of two stories that Updike obviously deters from his usual point of view.

Updike worked best in the short story --- like all writers, they write best about what they knew -- and what Updike knew --- radiators, Canasta, coal chutes, Katzenjammer kids, mechanical change makers, and first run movie theaters is his own history.... American history that I experienced vicariously because of my own parents.

The beauty of fiction is that it can freeze time -- and there is no more wonderful time to freeze than your own. :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"I Was Big Foot's Love Slave"

I heard recently that the average Westerners is hit with 50,000 images a week --- if that is true, then someone out there is takin' part of mine. Not all of them, mind you, but some of them -- I get my own overload of the media without trying at all.

What I have noticed lately, besides the fact that I am on the Internet more now that I retired, is that I cannot escape the images, put forth by the media -- slinging at me what they consider news worthy --

Come on. Tiger Woods can't even be unfaithful to his wife in private?

I used to use a software program for my email. When I bought two new computers, a desktop and a laptop in the last six months, my brother convinced me to just use the email from the Internet.

Brother: Why do you need a program?
Me:I dunno. You set it up last time.
Brother: You don't need it. Just use the Internet. It's faster.
Me: Okay. I need fast mail. I do. I need to see quickly that you don't read my emails.
Brother: Don't mock.

My carrier is ATT -- so now when I open my email, there is always an advertisement and news from the Internet.

Sometimes it's as lame as "Look at what Sharon Stone is wearing," but sometimes it's a more impacting image --- a starving child in Africa, a bombing in Baghdad, or a video clip from some disaster. Those images hit me sometimes as many as five times a day --- when I check my email. Sometimes it's the same image over and over -- sometimes it's a different one -- but they all have one thing in common -- someone out there thinks that I need to read this, or someone out there thinks I should.

What do you suppose that person looks like?
These are the things I ponder.

Most of the images trash up my memory bank. I don't want to see these things, I don't like to see these things, yet I get to see them anyway.

Talk about Spam -- this is mind spam -- and there really is no Spam filter or delete button installed in my mind-- if I see it, it's burned into my memory hard drive whether I want it or not. Trust me, my memory hard drive is about full -- it's "bitten" out.

I know this is why all those years ago that my parents limited what we watched on tv. My mother had the foresight to recognize that she didn't want some stranger determining what images were embedded in my feeble brain. I have told you before -- one time, during the 1960s, our television was broken for two years.

Eh. It could have been six months, but I was young and exaggerated every thing.

Thirty years ago, there abouts, when I was first teaching school, I would chuckle with my students about the magazines and tabloids displayed by the grocery checkout lines. I would complain that even if you didn't want to read National Enquirer or People -- you had no choice in seeing what was featured in their content free publications.

BTW: A friend of mine from high school would sometimes buy them -- National Enquirer -- bring them over to my house-- and we would take turns reading the articles out loud. We would laugh so hard sometimes that we'd cry --- tears streaming down our faces, slapping our knees, having to leave the room to contain ourselves...

one time, Jonathan left the Enquirer at my house, and I thought my mother would have apoplexy over it. She did not see the humor -- she only saw trash. That was not fun trying to explain what we did. I can still see my mother, her face set frozen with disapproval, when I tried to redo it for her, and she would try not to see the humor. My mother knew I had a sense of humor, but she did want it to be a little more sophisticated, I guess. I'm sure she was not happy that they misspelled "inquiring." LOL

The phrase "enquiring minds want to know" used to bring Jonathan and me to our knees in guffaws and snorts of laughter. We would read an article like "Duck People Colony Found in Texas" and follow it with "enquiring minds want to know" and then fall over laughing at it all. I would laugh until my face and side hurt, and we would beg each other to "quit reading, quit reading!!!"Jonathan, my good friend, if you are out there somewhere, here's to the memory...

Here are some of the memorable headlines from the Enquirer that I remember:

"Moth Baby Eats Mattress"

"Mother Gives Birth to Baby with Moustache: Looks Like Hitler"

"I Was Big Foot's Love Slave"

"Statue of Elvis Found on Mars"

"Kennedy's Body Found in Housewife's Freezer in Tuscon"

The way Jonathan and I would follow the articles with "enquiring minds want to know" was ....

kind of like how my aunts, when they were children in the 1920s, would keep themselves from falling asleep in church: they would flip through the Methodist Hymnal and read the title of a hymn and then follow it with "between the sheets." For example, "Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing" -- "between the sheets."


My aunt Ava said that part of the fun was trying to stifle the laughter. My aunt and I had the same sense of humor...

I remember thinking this was hilarious, but not quite getting the innuendo until I was older. If you are seven and you think, "He Lives" --- "between the sheets" is funny -- wait till you are twelve.

Never mind.

Anyway, back to school teaching, I taught journalism in my first days of teaching.


I can't tell you how much trouble a newspaper and journalism teacher used to get into for the articles published in the school newspaper, the content of which was ultimately the sponsor's responsibility.

I was young and naive, and I had a marginal sense about what I thought was appropriate or funny compared to what the other teachers or administrators [some of them hating the school newspaper] thought was appropriate or funny -- and I spent many times with the principal defending my student's editorials, articles, or columns.

Each time the newspaper came out, I was sort of sick the night before with anticipation as to what was gonna "overstir the stew" of the readership.

Regardless, our newspaper had a funny edge, and the sales of the newspaper stayed in the black,[most of the student body loved it] which was ultimately more important to the principal than the fact that one student satirized the student's homecoming theme or spoke out about the double standards of the school's dress code and the length of the cheerleaders' skirts.

Good times. Only not. I still have nightmares.
Kidding. Sort of..

I actually did two stints as newspaper sponsor --- I loved the camaraderie I had with the students -- crazy late afternoons trying to meet the deadlines and dashes to the printer where one student would find random clip art and place it on the mock up of the paper at the printer's. It was the first time I had heard of a smelt. I did some serious laughing with those former students, but I also did some serious ulcer growing.

*waves to Captain Jay*

Gosh, did I get off on a tangent.

Meanwhile, to my former journalism students out there --- those were fun days -- weren't they?


And I won't even get started telling you the stories of Journal Ball or selling ads during class. I should have been fired....



NSB: This blog's for you.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Double Bind

The title The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian did not resonate with me as to meaning anything other than being in a mess or "being in a bind," a term used loosely by me from time to time in conversation with others over situations in which I find myself in conflict -- like having to be in two places at once or not having enough time to both clean my house and read my book. What a bind!


Bohjalian uses "double bind" to explain the onslaught of schizophrenia in a child whose mother professes to love him, but at other times actually turns away from him "in disgust." The child cannot effectively decode these mixed messages, and so he escapes into another world. How accurate this use of the term is -- is not really important in its use in the novel.

The novel opens with a prologue narrating, in the first person point of view, a young college sophomore's brutal attack, while riding her bicycle on a logging road in Vermont, by two men in ski masks. Laurel, the bicyclist, survives the attack, she tells, by clinging fiercely to the handlebars and by not releasing her feet from the pedal clips, a unforeseen difficulty for her attackers. After vividly describing her physical wounds -- including broken fingers and a collar bone and the deep scrapes she suffered while being dragged still adhered to her bicycle across the gravel road -- as well as the emotional trauma of being afraid that she was moments from death-- a group of men, also bicyclists, close behind her on the road, scare off the attackers and save Laurel's life.

As the novel opens, it is seven years later, and Laurel, with a Masters in social work, currently makes a living as case manager at a homeless shelter called B.E.D.S. and has befriended a schizophrenic. The schizophrenic homeless man has few possessions except for a crumbly box of black and white photos and negatives. Calling himself Bobby Crocker, the homeless man dies suddenly and leaves behind the box which he had refused to let other see --
among his collection were ones of Eartha Kitt, Flip Wilson, Robert Frost, Chuck Berry, and Julie Andrews as well as photographs of himself and his sister taken in front of his childhood home. The childhood home strangely enough is supposedly - the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, the fictional characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby - and his sister -- Pamela Buchanan, their daughter.

Since Laurel herself had been a photographer, her boss thinks that she might be interested in cataloging the photographs for a possible exhibit that could raise much needed funds for the homeless shelter. Laurel finds herself totally immersed in the photos and seizes this box of Crocker's fading memories and uses the local college's darkroom to develop the negatives.

As the negatives float to life, Laurel believes she is uncovering an old dark family secret -- a secret that someone might pay to keep from surfacing. Determined to prove Crocker's brilliance as a photographer and give him legitimacy, Laurel doggedly guards the photographs in order to unravel the seventy year history of Crocker's past and his connection to the family of Fitzgerald's novel.

Even though I found Laurel's story compelling, the riveting opening having cemented my interest , the fact that Bohjalian uses the fictional Fitzgerald characters in his fictional work was all kinds of strange to me. Perhaps it is because I know the novel so well, and its being interwoven into Laurel and Bobby's story was just weird.

How is that any different than the way other writers have used historical figures in their ficitional works?

I dunno. I can't explain it.

Regardless, Bohjalian managed to keep me interested, and his shocking revelation at the end only added to my enjoyment of the novel.

Should you read it? I dunno.

BTW: Bohjalian added photographs taken by a real photographer, Bob "Soupy" Campbell, to the pages of his novel. Apparently, Campbell was homeless at the end of his life and his photographs left behind at a shelter. The photographs included have nothing to do with the story. :(

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Splash of Passion?

Splash of Passion Parties?

I saw an ad for this on one of those magnetic car signs on my way to the mall to go Christmas shopping.

The lady sporting this ad on the side of her 1999 white Alero was not someone you would want to meet in the dark.

Or the light.

Just sayin'.

Gosh, I love free enterprise.

"Splash of passion" makes me think of fruit juice -- with guava.

BTW: The lady in the Alero was not advertising for juice.. she was looking for partners.


I got to quit blogging -- but the world is so much fun when you ain't working.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fat bushes

As the Christmas lights begin to shine from the porches, roofs, and yards of the neighborhoods around me, I have always wondered at the randomness of lighting.

In one yard, the lights will be strung around three windows and one bush. What about the other bushes?

In another yard, the lights will go around the roof line and one lone lighted reindeer will stand in the yard. All by himself. So sad.

In yet another, lights will be draped over three small bushes on one side. The bigger bushes on the other side, forgotten. Forsaken. No bling.

I am kind of feeling bad for the big bush that gets no lights.

Is that because the bush is fat and no one likes a fat bush?

In another yard, one tree on the left side of the yard will be strung with lights. No other lights anywhere.

Next door, the lights are hanging on one side of the railing. On the opposite side of the steps, the lights are on a bush. Why not just put the lights on both sides of the railing?

I think I like symmetry and balance.

Regardless, Christmas lights on houses are random.


Outside Christmas lights are mostly hung by men.

Is there something in their psyche that makes men hang them with this much inequality?

Yesterday, my own husband was putting lights on the deck.
He used five strings and had only gotten about 1/2 way around.

Then he turned them on.

Me: Uh, no. You cannot turn the lights on until you finish the whole deck.
Hubby: Why?
Me: Just cause.
Hubby: Is there a Christmas outside lights etiquette book?
Me: Yes.
Hubby: I'd like to see it.
Me: It's unwritten.
Hubby: Figures.

You guys know what I mean? You can't just do half the deck.
It ain't right.

And no mixing of the white lights with the colored...either all white together and all colored together.

[Sounds like the rules for a prom circa 1965, Mississippi]

*slaps knee and chuckles at own joke*

It ain't right. Outside Christmas lights should not be random.

*shakes head*

It just ain't right.

Just sayin'.