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.