I’ve been scanning more old family photos, and they’ve brought memories surfacing from the depths of my mind, touching my heart. Especially now. December 15th was my dad’s birthday.
He was born in the early years of the 20th century and grew up through the Great Depression. He remembers walking the railroad tracks with his two brothers, Ben and Bill, scavenging for lost coal that fueled the trains. I’ve written before of how he and his brothers were often housed in orphanages after their mother deceased and their father was away on government ships.
The photo here was painful to see. In this depressing atmosphere, my dad worked to repair trucks at the General Electric division in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
I also mentioned the character of these young men who knew the value of home and family life they never had, how it bound them together for a lifetime, how their example was passed on to the children in the family. And despite their minor flaws and foibles, honesty, courage, camaraderie, and generosity, were their guiding values.
Each year, Dad played Santa Claus at the Christmas party for children of General Electric employees. In the photo below, he carefully descends the narrow stairs at the union hall as he greets the children. One year, my young cousin Gary piped up, “That ain’t Santa Claus!” When we asked why he thought that, Gary replied, “Because he’s wearing Uncle Walt’s shoes.” He was right. My dad’s big, old brogans, though always neatly polished, told the shape of his foot and many repairs.
And finally, below is my dad with wedding gifts presented by fellow employees…
Everything in that picture has a story to tell. My Mom used the iron in the laundry room where the clock kept perfect time until her decline and move into my sister Susan’s care. The sale of her house was traumatic for all of us. Dad, with help from his brothers, Ben and Bill, and friends, painstakingly built the house over time.
Look around you. Look through old photos. What stories do those people or objects tell?
Let it be a tale of the true values of life. Not greed and the lust for power, or the many evils mankind is capable of.
Let it be a tale of forgiveness, of honesty, love, and compassion for every fellow human being, as befits the true gift of Christmas, whatever your beliefs.
When I was a kid in Bridgeport, Connecticut, my dad and I were Brooklyn Dodger fans to the core. We bucked the tide of Yankee fans riding along with the winners. In retrospect, I wondered if their choice of hero worship reflected a need in themselves to bask in the glow of winners: The team I align myself with is a winner, ergo, I am a winner.
Well, what did that say about my dad, my mom, and me? Were we losers because our beloved Dodgers hadn’t won a series in our lifetimes?
Slap my face for even thinking that. After their mother died, my dad and his two brothers moved from orphanage to orphanage wherever Grandpa’s work on government ships took him. What they learned was Family First, self-sufficiency, and holding out against the odds. Tenacity.
My mom and her two sisters, the youngest of ten surviving children, left school at age sixteen to join the work force, as had their brothers before them. Savings accumulated by my maternal grandfather, a feed-and-grain businessman, dwindled, requiring every able hand to take on work to keep the family together. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence.
In 1955, I was in the driveway waiting for my dad to come home from work. We spied each other, and the hullabaloo began. Me, shouting at the top of my lungs, wearing my Dodgers’ cap, waving my Dodger pennants, and my dad endlessly honking the horn and shouting back. The Boys of Summer had finally won the World Series! Tenacity. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence. It all paid off.
After my beloved Dodgers dodged Brooklyn for less-green pastures in L.A., I lost interest. They abandoned their loyal fans and their heritage as trolley dodgers for monetary gain. From then on, I watched sports in general degrade into huge money-making machines with little loyalty to their family of fans
When I heard that Chicago-Cleveland Series tickets this year went for as high as $1,500 plus, I was struck by how pervasive GREED is in our society. It pollutes everything from sports, TV, movies, theater, politics, and some unscrupulous sects of religion. Money is god in our culture.
Still, I had no hesitation in rooting for the Chicago Cubs. No World Series win in 108 years? Bring it on! That’s my kind of team! Down three-to-one in the series and they WIN the @#$%& thing! Woo-hoo! My kind of guys! Tenacity, self-sacrifice, cooperation, persistence.
“Okay,” you ask, “so what has all this got to do with writing?”
Duh! Really? Do I have to spell it out for you? Stop reading this, START WRITING and DON’T GIVE UP!
…is a disease of the writer’s wandering mind. In August I started “Brushed Off and back in the Saddle…” with a short story called Off Day Off. I apologize to anyone stranded at his or her computer waiting for the end of the story promised for the next month. September 18th was my mom’s birthday. She would have been 96 this year had she not passed in 2014. I’d been scanning old photos and reliving memories that prompted the tribute and the tip I passed on about using these memories as memoir pieces, creative non-fiction, or short story starters given a what if… twist to the real event.
You can refer back to the August piece if you wish. The point of that blog was that a writer should NEVER toss out ideas, scenes, or a story that you can’t seem to finsh. Store it away like old-fashioned bread dough. Sooner or later it will rise and be ready to bake! For the impatient who prefer not to be amazed at my genius for writing… the short short story about the short story is: Off Day Off” finds a gal named Twyla taking a well-deserved day off from household demands. Let me take you back a bit to Delray Dolly’s Donuts & More shop where Twyla nestles into a booth to relax…
…Dismissing Dolly with a wave, I plugged in my earphones, tuned my iPod to easy listening music, and shook open my newspaper. Skipped over the obits. My name wasn’t there. Skipped sports, too. Motherhood, Wifehood, and Househood was enough of a workout. I also skipped the theater section. My name would never be there. I whisked away a wisp of regret with a feather duster of gratitude for everything I was blessed with. I plucked out the comics and smiled. They always started my day with a chuckle.
In moments, despite the earphones, searing screams at the counter drew my attention from the window beside me as it exploded, sending shards of glass flying. My left arm snapped beneath part of the table as it splintered from its base. Darkness descended like a curtain at the end of Act One.
Act Two. The curtain rose on a blurred halo of bright red-orange surrounding an ashen oval punctuated by two fuzzy green lights. As Dolly’s face came into focus, I couldn’t help but hear her, even through the howling pain in my arm.
“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. Oh, Twyla. Thank God. I called Tom. He’ll meet you at the hospital. Are you okay?”
“Sure. I’m lying on your floor trying not to scream with pain,” I growled through clenched teeth. “What the hell happened?”
Over Dolly’s nervous babble, I focused out a bit farther and realized an old Cadillac had attempted to eat half my table, and stopped within inches of consuming me as well. “Holy shit! Oh, Jesus…oh, oh, A-A-A-A-AH! Curtain down on Act Two
Act Three. Three handsome hunks are kneeling beside me. Part of my dance team. Genuflecting to the jungle goddess. Oh, hell, no! EMTs. I’m still on Dolly’s floor, but the pain isn’t as bad. Maybe my arm is numb. Maybe they shot me up with some happy juice. Curly Black Hair with sensitive blue eyes and a perfect smile is the first to speak.
Ma’am? The infatuation is over. He’s not that cute, anyway.
“We need to get your information.”
After they scribbled down my life history, and while they stabilized my arm and patched some nasty cuts, Dolly filled me in on what I’d missed.
“We couldn’t believe it! The Caddy just crashed through the window and you were gone! Out of sight! On the floor! I called 911, people ran out to check on the driver, and I checked on you. Oh, that poor old guy.” Dolly shook her head. “I think somebody said he was ninety-two or ninety-three years old. He hit the gas instead of the brake.”
“Jeez. I hope he has insurance.”
“Yeah. I hope he had life insurance, too.”
Dolly’s eyes shimmered. She shook her head again. “For his family’s sake. Poor old guy. He had a heart attack and died before the EMTs got here.”
“Poor old guy is right,” I said as Dolly trotted beside my stretcher to the emergency vehicle. “What a hell of a day for all of us.”
Dolly clutched my hand as they paused to load me into the rescue vehicle. “Yeah. But remember, we’re still here to gripe about our bad luck.” Before they closed the door she waved and added, “I’ll be checking up on you—a lot! Looks like between us, we’ll have quite a few ME-days off.”
Stay tuned. Same time, same station. You can catch me in November for another exciting ride on my train of thought!
MEMORIES and MEMOIRS I’ve been scanning photos old and new into the mighty maw of my Apple computer in Pictures, Desktop, Photos, thumb-drive, and occasionally, Documents. It’s not that I don’t trust my computer…it’s just that I don’t trust technology in general. So far, these photos have brought back smiles as well as LOL and tears. I don’t want to lose them, though there are a few I might not scan.
I’ve decided not to scan the proverbial bearskin rug photo—not that I didn’t look pretty good at eighteen (months, that is), it’s just that I don’t want that photo turning up on a bottle of the Russian baby bath or shampoo. Unless royalties are involved. (Vladimir Vladimirovich – give me a call if you’ll consider royalties. Incentive: I’ll throw in a picture of me at eighteen.) Money makes the world go round…money…money…
Where was I? Oh, on a bearskin rug. With no money. So, scanning all these memories got me thinking how great they are as story starters for memoirs, fiction or creative fiction.
There’s the photo of me at six months. My mother said there was no way I could remember seeing the photographer bouncing a fake birdie on a stick to make me smile. Really? There’s a story!
Then there’s my beautiful mom holding eight-month-old-me in a flowery field. Story starter!
Moving on a few years, we see two swans; Ruth, my mom, is on the left. On the right is my Aunt Marcelle who came from France at the end of World War II as my Uncle Ben Todd’s bride. Stuck in the middle is a very unhappy Ugly Duckling – ME! Oh, did you ever see a better growing-pains story starter? Pompoms on the knit cap? Really, Mom? Oh, and snowsuit? You two babes are in silk stockings and heels! What? And I won’t even mention remembering how my glasses steamed up from the cold. Oops. I never said that. Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like a politician. Really. Trust me. I never said it.
So, dear reader, go mining your old family photos for poetry and prose ideas. Just be prepared for the explosion of feelings and sensory images all that effort provokes. Happy digging. Let me know what…turns up!
By the way, today (18th) would have been Mom’s 96th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! Love you! And give Daddy a hug for me.
…which won’t mean much unless you read the previous post. See? You never know when I’m going to spring a pop quiz. Once a teacher, always a teacher.
If you sneaked back just now to catch up, you’re probably wondering (or not, that’s OK) what I did while I was recuperating. How’s eleven poems toward my next collection grab you? It’s easy when you’ve wrapped them around a great character. She keeps yakking in my ear, chattering about her life experiences and what life lessons she’s learned.
But, I also went back and finished up a short story I started a long time ago, lost focus, and filed it. It’s a fairly light piece called OFF DAY OFF, and it seemed appropriate to share it with you, considering how my summer vacation went. So, here y’go:
OFF DAY OFF by Virginia Nygard
Friday. My day off. In a manner of speaking.
The wheels began spinning. Groceries. Cleaners. Bank—check on second mortgage. Ask Miss Debbie at Toe-To-Toe if she could use some clerical help toward Dinah’s tap and ballet lessons. Ask Mrs. Grundlee if she’ll trade piano lessons for Chaz for my computer skills. I hate to cut back even more on the kids’ activities while Tom’s job hunting. Speaking of which, check Employment Opportunities ads for computer savvy help wanted. Then battle the college kids for what’s available. Remember to hunt for Dinah’s missing pink dinosaur T-shirt. Don’t forget to make Tom’s favorite meatloaf with hot peppers. Remind mothers to provide goodies for the third grade party on Monday…
Wait a minute, Twyla. You’re a hamster spinning on the wheel of infinity. I didn’t see one word in that list about something for you on your day off!
Me? I don’t remember me being on my list of priorities.
Bingo. My point exactly. Have you ever considered taking a day for yourself?
A Me-Day? Did I ever have one before Tom whisked me away from Off-Broadway to suburbia?
No, but suburban life is just as grueling. Will the world come to an end if you take a day off from endless days that are devoted to everyone else?
Gee, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to start the day down at Delray Dolly’s Donuts & More for a change. Breakfast somebody else makes, serves, and then cleans up? Read the newspaper front to back? I’ll do it!
Don’t rush me. I’ll think of something.
Fresh donuts. Coffee. Bacon. They all waved a welcome under my nose as I pushed open the door to Dolly’s place. I sat at a table by the window where a few scraggly hibiscus plants failed to obscure the parking lot or the traffic inching along Federal Highway. Still, the view beat that of my laundry room—cubicle, actually—and dirty laundry growing up from the root. At the counter, Dolly did a wide-eyed double take, grabbed a menu and sauntered in my direction.
“Are you lost, lady?” she asked with a rumbling laugh that shook her like a mild earthquake. “The counter’s over there,” she said with a sweep of her arm.
I grinned. “No, Dolly. Hard to believe I’m not grabbing and running off with something as usual?”
“Got that right!”
“Well, I decided there are days for everything under the sun except a ME Day. I proclaim today to be the first official ME Day. Furthermore, every woman on the planet may proclaim the ME Day of her choice.”
She glared at me over her chartreuse-colored glasses, knitting her eyebrows into a single black rope. “Twyla, the only ME day I’m gonna get is when I retire, sell this place, or die—whichever comes first. And between you and me, it’ll probably the last one.” She gestured to my menu. “What can I get ya’?”
“How about the two-egg special and coffee?”
“Eggs, yes, Coffee, no. I like it neat.”
She shook her head. “If this is what taking a day off does to ya’, do me a favor and take it somewhere else. Your toast?”
“You’re toast,” I growled like a mobster. “Was my joke that bad?”
With a pregnant pause and a drop-dead glare over the glasses she said, “Go ahead, make my day.”
I grinned. “English muffin, forked open, not sliced. I want all the nooks and crannies. Make it lightly toasted, dripping with butter and cinnamon sugar.”
She gave me one of her faux grimaces. “I ain’t saying nothin’ more to you,” she said, dipping her head conspiratorially and grumbling, “except arsenic and cinnamon looks a lot like cinnamon sugar, ya’ know.”
Dismissing Dolly with a wave, I plugged in my earphones, tuned my iPod to easy listening music, and shook open my newspaper. Skipped over the obits. My name wasn’t there. Skipped sports, too. Motherhood, Wifehood, and Househood was enough of a workout. I also skipped the theater section. My name would never be there. I whisked away a wisp of regret with a feather duster of gratitude for everything I was blessed with. I plucked out the comics and smiled. They always started my day with a chuckle.
In moments, despite the earphones, searing screams at the counter drew my attention from the window beside me as it exploded, sending shards of glass flying. My left arm snapped beneath half the table as it splintered from its base. Darkness descended like a curtain at the end of Act One.
(End Scene One)
Now that’s what is known in the writing business as a hook. It’s the way you want to end a chapter so readers keep reading…whether they want to or not. As someone who read my first novel, Déjà Vu Dream, said, “You stinker! I couldn’t get to sleep until I finished the book!” Nicest compliment I’ve ever had.
Another tip: Never throw away a story you can’t finish. File it. Come back later. Months or years later. Life experiences may help you refocus.
See you in September? Twyla awaits your sympathetic ear!
…And get back up on the horse that threw you. Well, I did that in a literal sense in college when horseback riding was a P.E. Choice. The instructor asked if everyone had some experience with riding a horse. We all answered in the affirmative, and with a few instructions, off we went. My answer had been a bit skewed. My experience consisted of pony rides at country fairs and mounting complacent carousel horses at carnivals. My horse, however, was obviously more observant of my skill, or lack thereof, and decided to go about his romp as if he’d left me behind…which he soon did. Fortunately he dumped me in the soft grass and mud at stream side.
The instructor said he’d have given me a tamer horse had I explained my limited equine knowledge. So, I didn’t exactly get back on the horse that threw me, but with a few basic instructions, reseated myself on a tame mare who looked about as achy in certain parts as I felt then. The point is, I did pick myself up; I brushed myself off, and didn’t let the experience throw me off, even though the horse had.
Persistence is inherent in my nature, I think. When I was about ten years old, learning to ride my first bicycle (no trainer wheels – just ‘have at it’), I skidded to a flop on our gravel sidewalk, and mashed one knee bloody. Either I didn’t know cuss words or was afraid to use them. I marched into the house.
“Mom, I need some Bandaids!”
“Oh, sweetie, let me help you!” She washed the gravel out of my wound, bandaged me up and said, “There. Why don’t you rest awhile?”
I can still feel my pinched face full of righteous indignation, determination, and pent up fury as I headed for the back door. “No. I’m going to go out there and ride that thing!”
Recently, I slipped getting out of bed and, as the official EMT report said, “fell on her butt on a plastic water bottle.” (I love technical terms, don’t you?) The result? Another dislocated hip, subsequent surgery, and the annoying recuperation period. Yes, ANOTHER. This is not my first dog and pony show.
Why confession time? What does it have to do with writing?
Aha! YOU tell ME!
I wish I could remember which journalist years ago explained his major pet peeve. I’d probably punch him in the nose. Why? His explanation has stuck to me like superglue and my eardrums rub raw every time I hear the phrase. And I hear it dozens of times a day.
His major pet peeve irked whenever he heard a guest reply, “Thanks for having me,” for appearing on the host’s program. The journalist said hearing those words conjured up all sorts of vivid, illicit images of the manner in which the host “had” the guest! And, I wonder, when? Before the show? Where? In the Green Room…or a quickie in the broom closet? I might add, “Thanks for having me on your show” is even worse. I’m tempted to switch channels on hearing that one. Is that a wink-wink way of hinting at live sex? Don’t think I’d care to watch. I’d hate to see anyone’s…shortcomings exposed.
My inquisitive mind wanders to wondering if the guest might be the son or daughter of the interviewer. Who was the interviewer’s mate? Was it a long labor? C-section? Natural delivery? By the time I finish my speculations, the interview has passed and I’ve lost all but the lasting impression that I infer from… “Thanks for having me.”
I suggest any of the following replies to your host:
“Thanks for inviting me.”
“Nice to be here.”
Or just a gracious “You’re welcome.”
(And you needn’t thank me.)
That being said, That being said… ranks in the top ten on my list of pet peeves. I yell at the offender, “Of course, you idiot, we heard you say it!” Find another segue! Excluding politicians, you’re on radio or TV because you are fairly educated, reasonably intelligent, and somewhat adept at promoting your point of view, yes? Vary your routine. “However,” is nice. “But, we must remember,” is pretty good. “Also, let’s consider,” is a possibility. Don’t go near “On the other hand.” That’s another of my pet peeves. It’s excusable if you have only one other point to make, as you have only one other hand. I hope.
“Look.” I cringe at that one. It implies that having been asked a question, the interviewer is too stupid or inept to follow the answer. It’s insulting. Look, make me happy. Just drop it, and make your point.
“Listen.” That, too, insults your conversation partner. It assumes that having made a point, your host is about to reach up and switch off his hearing aid before you can reply. Listen, take a deep breath and just go into your rebuttal.
Okay, my curmudgeonly comments are complete is for now, but, yes, I’ll be back! In closing, let me say thanks for having…an open mind. (Whew! That was a close one.)
D on D Blog JULY 2016 AS OF YET…
…I have no explanation for as of yet. I see no yet on my watch, or any clock. Does it serve well as a time reference? Can we say: “The cake will be done as of yet.” “The train will arrive as of yet on Friday.” “We are open as of yet to five o’clock.” Nor do I see yet on my calendar. Sunday through Saturday, yes. As of yet? No. January through December, yes. As of yet? No. Can’t somebody outlaw this one? (As of yet, no!) Maybe we’d have better luck outlawing the journalists who utter it.
Then there’s the idiom about the clock. You know, that dirty clock that belongs to John. “He’s going to clean John’s clock.” Am I that young, or are these journalists that old? Clean a clock? Don’t we just throw them out and buy another from China, so we can throw that one out and keep the Chinese economy perking? What I mean guys, is be creative. Bring it up to date. How about, “He’ll erase John’s hard drive,” or “He’ll wipe out John’s accounts.” Even “He’s going to wash John’s chalkboard” would be less lame than clean his clock. If he wants to clean something, I’ve got a garage I want him to see.
While we’re on the subject, think about “They’ll take him to the cleaner’s.” I’m always tempted to help him by interrupting with, “What if he wants to go to Walgreen’s or Walmart? Be generous. Take him out for the whole day!”
At times, reworking hackneyed idioms and clichés such as you missed the boat requires engaging brain before opening mouth. In my literal-minded third-grade class, during a question-answer session at the end of the day, Miguel badly missed the mark with an obvious guess at an answer to my question. The kind of guess that leaves the class snickering. I smiled and attempted to make light of his gaff.
“Gosh, Miguel,” I said, “you really missed the bus on that one.” Hands flew up eager to share the right answer, and my attention was drawn away from Miguel, who rose and headed for the door. “I gotta go,” he said. This was not unusual. As long as the lavatory privilege was not abused, and not more than one child was out of the room at a time, such announcements were common. What was uncommon was to have the guidance counselor return Miguel to class minutes later.
“Did you tell Miguel it was time to go home?”
“But you said I missed the bus,” Miguel protested.
I sagged under the weight of a long day, tired feet, and a blossoming headache brought on by realizing what might happen when an idiot skews an idiom!
So, choose even your semi-original phrases carefully. Particularly in multicultural situations where American idioms don’t translate well into foreign understanding.
As of yet, I am out of pet peeves, but this an election year, and there’s a lot to dislike out there! Stay tuned for the possible Return of the Curmudgeon!