Changing Seasons

The leaves have fallen from the trees across the street, but this morning I watched two stellar jays flutter from branch to branch.  A nut hatch also scurried about his business as the sun highlighted the gnarled,weathered and snapped appendages of the old poplars that are determined to thrive despite the early winds this year. Although clouds dot the morning sky, the sun is like those old poplars.  It is determined to win.

So I draw from their persistence today and rejoin the writing world.  I look forward to winter with the anticipation of a child.  As the rains and winds approach, I have the perfect reason to stay indoors and write.

I have other writing I must do, so will sign off for now, but I will be back soon.

 

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NICKNAMES, SILLY LABELS and other Conventions

What my photo album revealed….

JoAnn and I cropped 2

 I opened my photo album and my younger sister, Jo-Ann, appears. July 1949, she isn’t yet six months-old.  I am no more than a year-and-a-half.  She has hair.  I don’t.  Well, mine is very light and it appears as if I have very little.  This image doesn’t make me shrink with disgust.  I know that I am en route to a discovery.

The next picture of me was taken sometime later.  I am big enough to sit on a backless stool.  I have no more hair than I had in the first picture.  Today, this one doesn’t make me pout like I did for the photo.  Instead it makes me smile.  It reminds me of why Dad nicknamed me Butch.  Butch is such a silly nickname for a girl.  But yes, he was right.  When I was small I didn’t have much hair.  Dad never used that moniker maliciously.  He never called me that in front of my friends.  It was instead a special endearment that seldom went beyond the family.  I wish he were here today to call me Butch just once more. September 3rd would have been his 99th birthday.

As I continue through the album, I come across numerous pictures of Jo-Ann and I dressed alike.  Unfortunately the quality of the photos is so poor that I cannot scan most of them in and share.  And alas, I do not have the technical ability to scan them and improve them.

 My favorite is of the two of us standing in the yard.  It reveals so much about our childhood.   It was probably a Sunday morning.  We both have our short blond hair curled in soft curls, parted on the left and combed to the right.  Hair barrettes hold our hair out of our faces.  That in itself is a reminder.  Bangs were not permitted in our household.  Never! They reminded Dad of a really mean little girl from his school days.

We both wore white ankle socks.  I know there was probably a stitch of blue embroidery thread in each of Jo-Ann’s and a stitch of red in each of mine.  Each Monday the laundry was done and sorted.  All of our clothing was labeled.  I am not sure why it was so important that we each had our own clothes and never wore the others.  As we grew, items were always passed down from one of us to the next.  And when we were quite small we were always dressed alike. However  I am grateful that we each had our own things.  I know a lot of kids didn’t.

Our brown sandals reminded me of another part of the family tradition.  Brown, not white.  Brown could be polished and didn’t get scuffed up as easily as white..  Oh how I wanted Saddle Oxford’s for school when I got older.  But my folks often bought Jo-Ann and me shoes from the boy’s department; because that was the only way they could get brown or black shoes for us.

In the snapshot we are both wearing checked cotton dresses, with puffed sleeves, and ruffled skirts.  Jo-Ann’s looks neat and tidy.  Mine looks wrinkled.  (Hmm, I wonder if there was more to that nickname than just my lack of hair.)  I am not even half-of-a-head-taller than she is.  I can tell which one is me because my shoulder is higher than hers…and my skirt is shorter.  Her skirt almost reaches her knees.  I must have been in a growing phase.  My skirt hem and knees had separated company.  That was another family must…Skirts are to be worn halfway across the knees.  Can you imagine how much stress that caused when I was in my teens in the 1960’s and the mini-skirt was popular?

We both have little purses with long straps that reach across our bodies from one shoulder to the other side.  That is how I know it was Sunday.  There was, no doubt, a handkerchief with a few pennies for the collection plate, tied in the corner and stored within those bags.  We are both looking at the camera and smiling.  And best of all, we are holding hands.  Today we live in different states.  I wish she was close enough that I could reach out and hold her hand today.

Now let’s recap this photo.  We had the same hairdo; the same socks and shoes; the same dresses; matching purses; and we are just about the same size.  I guess I don’t have to wonder why people thought we were twins.

Jo-Ann was nicknamed Jeep.  One of the most popular stories was that she was standing up in the back  of the car on one of our outings.  A Jeep vehicle had cut Dad off, or some such thing and he said, “Get out of the way Jeep.”  At this point Jo-Ann ducked, she thought he was talking to her.  From that day on the family says she was called Jeep.  But as I look through the album I wonder if there might be an additional reason.

In the album I find several pictures of Jo-Ann and me dressed alike.  The big difference is that in one I am admiring how cool I look; and she has a wad of her skirt twisted up in her fist, and she is crying.  In the next, she has her hands bawled up into little fists, and yes, she is crying.  I am just standing there looking at the ground.  And on and on they go.  She always looks ready to be on the go and not happy to have to stand still.  She wasn’t a sit and do nothing child, unless she was ready to fall asleep.  And now I wonder if that is why Dad affectionately called her Jeep.  She was like a Jeep–always ready to go.

As I continue I discover a photo taken in 1955.  This is a picture of me with both of my sisters.  We are dressed in matching blue dotted nylon skirts.  Other than the 1955  photo matching outfits seldom show up in the photo album after we started school.  The pictures that appear are instead pictures of us under the Christmas tree with three identical dolls; or on Easter Sunday with different dresses, but wearing identical hats, bags and sandals.

It is amazing that we grew up to be such different personalities.  We are compatible, but different.  Just the way it is supposed to be.

 

This was written for Three Word Wednesday.  The words:  disgust; pout; wad.

Also written for my monthly memoir group.  Topic:  Something from your childhood.

 

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Where is My Muse?

Sometimes my muse behaves like a delinquent child.

She refuses to send me a  coherent thought.

She does nothing to trigger an inspiration and

I end up feeling like a hapless lass.

Today is one of those days….

Three word Wednesday:  hapless; delinquent; trigger.

 

 

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Today Is Different — A Story for Write Your Memoir

I am the fourth of five living children.  It seems I am always “too little” for whatever the big kids get to do.  But as soon as Momma says I’m “big enough” to do something, Jo-Ann gets to do it too.   And she’s a whole year younger than me.  It doesn’t seem fair.   But today is different.

Today is my first day of school.  Not the first day of school, but my first day of kindergarten.

Momma is going with me today.  We left Jo-Ann with old lady Wagg across the street.  (I don’t know why everyone calls her old lady Wagg instead of Mrs. Wagg, but we all call her that.)

It’s just Momma and me.

I am so excited I want to run, but Momma has a firm hold on my hand.  And Momma don’t run.  So, I just merrily skip along.

I am being real careful.  Momma let me wear my Sunday school dress and sandals today.  My dress is blue-green nylon and it swishes as I skip along.  If I’m not careful I’ll scuff my sandals.  Momma will not be happy if I scuff my sandals.

We are walking because Momma hasn’t learned to drive yet.  But it’s not really too far.

I can see the school now.   “Grand Avenue”, I think.   Momma had told me that is the name of my school…”Grand Ave”.

I have to remember that, she said, just like I have to remember that my full name is Mary-Ann Jensen and I live at 516 9th Street.

Momma is carrying my blanket for nap time.  It is white with blue ribbon on the ends.  She stitched my name on it so everyone will know that it’s mine.

I can see Grand Avenue School clearly now.  The kindergarten is separate from the rest of the school.  It is a building in the corner of the school.  It is all fenced off by itself.   Momma says that is so the big kids can’t bully the kindergarteners.

Momma opens the gate and tells me that I must always remember to close it behind me when I come through it.  One more thing I must remember.  “Close the gate!” I say to myself.  “Close the Gate.”

Miss Isabell meets us at the door and tells us who she is.

“Miss Isabell” I think, as I repeat her name to myself.  She is the teacher.  I like her.

The classroom is full of kids and Mommas.  Miss Isabell gives Momma my name tag and tells her to pin it to my dress.

“This is not right”, Momma says somewhat disturbed.  “Her name is Mary hyphen Ann, not Mary.”

Miss Isabell smiles.  She picks up her crayon and adds “– Ann”.  Now my name tag reads Mary-Ann just like it should and Momma is happy again.

My nametag has a red flower on it.  I like red.  Miss Isabell tells me that all of my things will have that red flower on them.

She tells Momma and me to go find the cubbyhole with that same red flower on it.  That is where I will store my things.

Momma helps me find my cubby hole and we put my nap time blanket in it.  Next we must find my table and chair.

The room excites me.  I let Momma look for my flower on the table and chairs as I look around the room.

The chalkboard is black and covers most of one wall.   Big colorful letters hang above the chalkboard.  I know a lot of them.  I read “A, B, C…”

Momma interrupts my thoughts.  “Over here, Mary-Ann.”  The look on her face warns me that she is not happy with me.  She thinks I daydream too much.

Soon we have all found our tables and chairs.  Us kids are all sitting in our chairs now.  Most of the Momma’s are standing in the back of the room.

One little girl is crying.  I think her name is Susan.  She looks scared.  Her Momma is on her knees on the floor beside her.  I don’t understand why she is crying, but then I am just a little kid, so I guess I don’t need to know why she’s crying.

Miss Isabell starts talking to all of us.  Once again I start looking around the room.  There is a wall with a big red apple, a large yellow banana, an orange…

This time Miss Isabell’s voice breaks into my thoughts.  She is leading us outside and wants us to line up into two lines; one for the boys, one for the girls.  She is telling us that this is where we will meet before school and that we should line up when the first bell rings.

Oh my!  One more thing to remember.  Line up when the bell rings.

Soon Momma and I are at the gate again.  Momma reassures me that she will walk me to school next Monday when classes really start, but I must wait by the gate for my brother Leo after school.  He will walk me home when school gets out for the day.

As we are walking toward home I think, “Today is different.  I go to school.”

I grin as I think, “Jo-Ann is still too little.

This story was posted for write your memoir:   writersdaybook

It was the first memoir piece I wrote.  I wrote it as an adult, but wanted to share the way I felt as a child.

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I Always Thought I’d Live in Colorado

In the summers before freeways crisscrossed the country from short to shore and border to border, when major highways remained unpaved, and before pollution grayed the skies of every major city, our family used to drive from Southern California to Granddad’s farm in South Dakota.  Late on a Friday afternoon when Dad arrived home from work, he would load the footlocker into the trunk.  Mom would add the little leather suitcase that held everything we would need overnight, if we stopped, although we seldom did.  Then a thermos of coffee and a jug of ice water were added to the floor up front by Mother’s feet.

Dad liked to leave in the evening so that we could drive across the desert in the cool of the night.  He would drive straight through to South Dakota, or at least until his eyelids could no longer remain open to navigate the curves and hills of the country roads; or until a nighttime summer-storm rendered the windshield wipers useless.  When that happened he’d park the car in the gravel lot behind a market or tavern that was closed for the night.  He would lean the car seat as far back as he could, without crunching a child, and close his eyes until the sun once again appeared on the horizon, or the early sounds of daybreak  disturbed his sleep.  Then he’d drive some more.

Sometimes, while Dad slept we would wake up in the dead of night and hear phantom creatures crunching the gravel around the car and be afraid to open our eyes for fear some flaccid being would be outside staring in.

During the early morning hours we would stop at a diner or café where one pancake filled the plate and milk was drawn from a machine.  But soon we’d be on the road again.

There were times when we would arrive at the farm in the wee hours of the third day.  Our bodies no longer agile, Mom would lead us from the car, into the house and up the stairs to the comfort of a bed.  Other times we would wait in the car until Granddad headed to the barn for early morning chores.

Week one was Mother’s vacation.  There would be one day each for each of Mother’s four sisters.  And Sunday always meant church and family dinner.  If we were there for the Fourth of July we’d have a massive family reunion at the farm, with fireworks and homemade ice cream.  It was a busy time.

Week two was when Dad’s vacation began.  There was a little gypsy in Dad.  He liked traveling from place to place and exploring parts unknown to him.  We visited National Parks and explored underground caves and other oddities along the way.  But the year I remember most is the year we drove through Colorado.  We had never been in Colorado before, I don’t know why we’d gone that way on this particular trip, but that is where we were when the car broke down.

We had traveled along just outside Denver.  We had driven through trees, up and down grades; and stopped for a soda.  When we got back on the road I could hear a strained conversation between my parents.  I wasn’t sure what it was about, but it was clear that something was wrong with the car.  The car whirred when Dad tried to change gears.  The engine sounded like it was overloaded.  It became more and more difficult to maneuver the hills and curves.  Finally we arrived on the outskirts of Denver.  Dad stopped at a garage near a small motel.

Dad went to the garage and Mom checked into the motel.  We had one room with one bed and a tiny kitchenette.  At night we would stretch out the big bulky quilt we carried for a mattress and add two sheets and our pillows.  For the next two or three nights that was where my two sisters and I slept.

When Dad returned he was upset.  It was going to cost more to repair the car than it was worth.  My parents decided to have the garage owner take Dad into town to look for a replacement car.  Dad found a car that afternoon but we had to wait for three days for the bank to approve the loan.  There was absolutely nothing the folks could do but wait.  I don’t know what happened to the Rambler the folks had been driving, but all of our travel gear was removed from the car and squeezed into the tiny motel room.

I am sure that my mother was frantic about how she was going to keep us entertained for several days in a 12 x 12 foot space.  The motel clerk told Mom of the park just a block away.  I remember the walk to the park.  .  We had peanut butter sandwiches, cookies and apples in a bag.  Dad was busy making phone calls when Mom led us to the park.

It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.  We inhaled the clear clean air and ran from tree to tree wrapping our arms around the massive trunks of large cottonwoods that were spread out on grassy mounds;  their large crowns created canopies that shaded us from the sun and provided the perfect picnic spot.    Later Dad joined us and spread a blanket on the ground and napped in the afternoon shade.  We played make-believe roller derby around the trees, the cool grass gently caressing our feet as we raced around each other.

A little creek danced along, the water doing pirouettes over the rocks and singing a bubbly little song as it went by. We removed our sandals.  Slowly we slid our dusty feet into the babbling brook.  The shiny rocks made us slip and slide as we tried to walk across.  I loved the cool feeling as the water cleaned the dust from between our toes and splashed upon our legs.  Back on the bank, we tried to catch the leaves as they floated along, but the current was too fast.  To grab them would have caused us to fall in; and we knew that mother would not be happy if we got our shorts and sun tops wet .  We remained content to watch the leaves float along.  Someone picked up a stick and tossed it in.  When Dad joined us he picked up a rock, gave it a low toss and we watched it skip across the creek.  We all tried it.  My younger sister was pretty good at it, but my older sister and I were dismal.  It didn’t matter.  We tried and tried again, just enjoying the moment.

When the sun hid behind the trees and the air-cooled we walked back to the motel.  Mom and Dad went inside while the three of us sat on the step and played count the out-of-state license plates until the sun was gone.  Inside Mom had placed our bedding on the floor beside the bed. We snuggled in, tired from a day of sunny play and ready for a night of pleasant dreams.

Mom and Dad left the room once we were tucked in and walked to the tavern to have a well-earned cold beer.  I heard them when they returned.  In the dark they quietly navigated the detour around our feet to enter the bathroom to brush their teeth.  And soon I heard their soft breathing that told me they were sound asleep.

I always thought I’d go back, not to visit but to live in Colorado.  But now I believe it was the serenity of the time and place that I was seeking.

Written for Three Word Wednesday:  agile; phantom; flaccid

And for Soup Night…Topic : Where I would live.

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Lifetime Treasures

 

Life is filled with this and that

Trinkets that we treasure

Little bits of memories

Stored within

A cherished doll,

A favorite ball

Or other childhood pleasure.

As we age and look around

Wondering how to measure

I wonder if the this and that

Stored inside

A cedar chest

Even if it is our best

Will still bring us such pleasure?

Material things are best

When they bring us joy or laughter

So if I discarded it

Sometime past

Without a question asked

I will not mourn it after.

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June 11, 2013 · 4:45 pm

Blue Glacier

I watched from the top of a boulder as the ones I called the angelic ones gathered beneath the blue glacier.  I had not figured out why this was the place they chose to meet every evening during the winter.  They could have met almost anywhere to divvy up their bounty.  But each day as the sun set, this is where I found them.

There were eight of them, four males and four females.  They all had long blonde hair so light that it appeared transparent.  The men held their hair back with vine-like ropes and wore drab white coats with long sleeves that reached to their finger tips , and had skirt hems that grazed the ground.  The females allowed their tendrils to fall freely framing their faces.  Their silhouettes were visible through their sheer blue cloaks.  The moon was bright and as it reflected off the glacier the angelic ones were bathed in light.

The tall male laughed as he sang out, “Berries, sweet berries were my find today.”  Another chanted, “Seeds, filling seeds, are my bounty.”  Then one of the females added her voice, “Roots, I pulled roots for a fine stew.”  Soon all of the voices joined the merriment as they sang about their finds.

They transferred abundance from their large hunting packs into individual parcels.  As I watched bits and pieces fell to the ground.    I could not imagine where they found the food.  One night I had tried following them to see if I could discover the garden they foraged, but they had disappeared into the darkness.  So tonight as usual, I waited and watched and hoped.  They continued to dance and sing until shortly before sunrise.  Then just as quickly as they had come, they picked up their packs and disappeared.

The blue glacier was now barely visible.  Clouds hid the moon and the winter sun was late to rise.  My heart began to pulsate when I heard the growl of an animal nearby.  It appeared as a large black shadow against the glacier.  I could not discern what it was.  I held my breath and tried not to cry out as I watched it devour the fragments left behind by the angelic ones.

I reminded myself that I had nearly made it through the winter. Spring would come and food would once again be plentiful.  But my empty being was not convinced.  As I was about to give up, the shadow disappeared.  Daylight returned.  I could see the glacier once again.

I flew from my perch with little hope.  But to my delight, I found seeds aplenty on the ice.  And I ate, grateful for another day.

 

Three Word Wednesday:  drab; pulsate; tendril

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