Friday, August 09, 2013

The Art of Being Mimi



I had a box filled with cards I saved from friends and relatives dating back thirty years—maybe more. To me they are tokens of love and for a long time I couldn’t bear to toss them. But then, I finally did. A few months back, I picked moving to my new house as a good reason to lighten my load. These visions of me dieing at age 100 with my stuff for sale spread across my over grown lawn with my kids and grandkids and great grandkids going through ‘Mimi’s’ boxes  of greeting cards, wondering why I saved them, kept me up at night (not really). The cards were bound to eventually end up in the trash so why not now? Why keep carrying the load?

Cards have always been important to me. Not by coincidence I made them important to the heroine in my latest book too, Wynn in the Willows. Dear Blog Reader, do not fear, this is not a pitch to buy the book, it’s not even out yet, not even in the final edits, doesn’t even have a book cover yet. It’s just my life sometimes spills over onto the pages of my stories at times, but I am digressing.  (A word to the wise; if you don’t want to end up on the pages of my books then don’t behave badly. Taylor Swift and I have something in common).

Some of my favorite cards were from my Grandma Wells who always enclosed $2 and a hankie sprayed lightly with lavender. For the better part of her life, she lived in Ottawa, Illinois where I spent a lot of face time with her during summers when I was little. (Little did I know that later in life, my first teaching job would be in this river town and I’d fall in love for the very first time). Once there, I enjoyed the backyard kiddy pool and a lovely garden filled with purple irises.

Grandma Mary wore square heeled pumps and dresses that buckled beneath her ample bosom. Never colored her hair, gray permed curls circled her head. For breakfast we drank from small juice glasses with oranges painted on them probably done in led. She made us unmemorable meals but never cookies. Grandma played a mean game of dominoes that could beat an eight year old any day of the week.

Now I am a Mimi. A single Mimi. Just like my mom and my grandma before her was at my very same age. Only they were widowed. I am not. A mere technicality.

 I don’t care for the name ‘Grandma’ because I envision someone very different from myself. I feel younger than I remember grandmas being. I wear jeans most of the time, except for my occasional short sun dress, and like to go bare footed whenever possible. My hair is long and naturally curly. But I don’t color my hair either. If I did, it might have some pink* in it. I dance at town venues with my girlfriends. I laugh loudly. I walk fast. I revel in all holidays. I like things to be…well…different, out of the ordinary.

This year has been a whirlwind of house hunting, swearing off new houses, desiring a funky vintage cottage. I yard sailed for items. Found too much; a couple of awesome antique beds with rails, vintage curtains, hand hooked rugs, frameless mirrors, a small child pitcher of a pig with its mouth open for milk to pour through it onto cereal. I piled it all in corners of my apartment fearing I was becoming a hoarder. My someday new place occupied my mind and days and sleepless nights. In my dreams I had the most funkiest of homes that I decorated for each holiday.

 Going into a house, or searching online for my home was like playing a game of pretend, not thinking I would ever be so blessed as to actually have my very own. But here I am. Within 5 minutes of stepping onto the lot, walking across the cement slab, I lived a thousand lives. I imagined myself sitting on the floor playing Ninja Turtles with my grandsons, watching Despicable Me dozens of times and eating bowls of popcorn while sitting on my old couch that needs stitching. I thought about running through sprinklers in bare feet and eating Fudgsicles afterwards. I spent hours on the net examining house colors and granite. My fantasy life was taking root.

I moved in, planted a few bushes, watered endlessly, dreamed of my little grandsons coming, and sat on my back porch while admiring the irises, not unlike those that had been in my grandma’s backyard, that were already on the property, bloom purple realizing I am like my grandmother in some ways, while in others I am so totally me.

My grandsons arrived with screams of “Mimi!” folding me loving in their arms, covering my face with sloppy kisses, exploring my home, so happy to be here. Even though they had their own bedroom, they slept in bed with me, so many toes and fingers in one small place—cuddled close together. We read books, played with Ninja Turtles, watched cartoons, went out to eat, ran through sprinklers, ate Fudgsicles, went to the ice cream shop, played with my new dogs.

Next time they come, I think I will get a wading pool.

And in my mailbox and on my door arrived a myriad of Welcome to Your New Home cards. Family and friends send me a token of their love. I am saving these. No box needed. Hanging them on windows and on mirrors, reminding myself dreams and prayers built this house, making me strong.  Echoes of laughter ring in my ears--making memories.

Dr Seuss writes: Today you are You,

that is truer than true.

There is no one alive

who is Youer than You!




 And that is what makes me Mimi.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Just Called To Say I Love You

Even though things weren’t always perfect in my home, I somehow thought they were. I was a kid after all. I had nothing to compare it with. What else did I know? How would I know that other dad’s didn’t drink, fall down drunk, and take off for weeks without being heard from?

Mom standing by the front blinds at night watching for Dad to come home was a familiar sight to me. It was my normal. And sooner or later, he came back. All was well then. Dad was the one I knew from afar, sleeping all day and then dressing in a hurry at 4 in the afternoon to be at his nightclub by 5, while Mom was our anchor—stable and always home. It’s just how things worked at our house. I was happy. And to top it all off, after we moved to Delavan, I had friends, good grades and life was good.

We joined the Delavan Methodist Church. My favorite stained glass window was of Jesus carrying the lost lamb on his shoulders. Jesus. I loved Him. I did this thing at church where I kept track of how many times in a sermon the minister mentioned Jesus. He was good. He could go months without mentioning God or Jesus, which irritated me. A few years later, the congregation was gifted with a new minister; Rev. Hinkleman and his wife and three children.

For some wonderful unexplainable reason our family instantly bonded with them. Even Dad did, a total non believer. (And Rev H mentioned God and Jesus in every sermon until there was no longer need for me to count.)

 By now Dad had developed aggressive cancer and spent more time in the hospital than at home. The entire Hinkleman family stood by us offering emotional support. We visited back and forth and soon they were not only the spiritual leaders of our church, but dear friends.

No longer able to work or walk, it seemed as though Dad stayed at the hospital more than he stayed (bedridden) at home. He was no longer addicted to alcohol. He was really addicted to pain meds particularly morphine. It wasn’t unusual for Dad to be up all night crying out in pain. During these times I didn’t have anyone over. It was a private family matter. Mom would sit with Dad during the night but it was difficult when she had to be up during the day to see to us three kids. Then Rev H and Gordon Yadon (town historian and postmaster) came to the rescue. They took turns sitting with Dad at night so mom could rest. Rev H read the Bible to Dad and Gordon discussed history.

By this time I was in high school and knew since middle school it was unusual for my dad to be like he was. I found out most dads played with their kids, did things with them, went to see them perform in plays, attended school conferences, interacted with them. None of this happened between us. Yet I loved him. Dad had these beautiful blue eyes that smiled at me. They spoke volumes. I felt his love. It filled the room when we were together and it was enough.

One evening when Dad was at the hospital, the Hinklemans came for dinner. They knocked on the garage door, the place all good friends knocked. Karen, my older sis, my mom, my younger brother Russ and I, all stood at the backdoor taking deep breaths. 

Mom said, “Okay they are a demonstrative family and will hug us when they come in so brace yourselves.” We made a collective sigh and stiffened more with each embrace. Today I laugh at that memory. I also find it odd that we considered a hug would be odd. To me it’s normal. I have become a hugger. A bear hugger. I also tell people I love them all the time. It’s who I am today.

I wear my feelings on my face and my heart on my sleeve. It’s the only way I can be.

Several months later, I was called out of school. Dad was dying. I was to pick my brother up from his school and Karen was on her way home from Chicago. Hurry. You can know the year, month, day, hour, second someone will pass from your life but it’s always a surprise when it arrives.

Russell and I arrived in Dad’s private room. Mom sat waiting for her children to gather. Two thirds of us were now there. Karen was still to arrive. Dad was barely awake, had a breathing tube in but couldn’t speak. I stood over his bed and took his hand in mine. I looked into those watery blue eyes I loved so very much knowing time was limited of ever seeing them again. How would I manage that? Then he smiled at me.

Russ was upset and left the room.

All of a sudden I knew I had to tell him that I loved him. What possessed me to have withheld those words from him for so long? Wouldn’t he have enjoyed hearing his daughter tell him, “I love you” ?

I turned to Mom. “Would you leave the room for a little while?” I whispered. She hugged me and left to find Russ.

I turned back toward Dad. His eyes now closed. “Dad.”

His eyes fluttered open.

“I have something to tell you.” My heart beat so rapidly I could hardly catch a breath but I had to, needed to tell him how I loved him before time took him from me and all I had were memories. And regret.

He looked weakly into my face.

“I love you Dad. I love you with all my heart.”

Those big blues widened. Filled with tears. He opened his lips trying to speak haltingly, trying to make a sound. But none came. Only gurgling from his throat. The oxygen machine whooshed. Wouldn’t it have been lovelier to have told him that I loved him when we were watching a storm come in off the lake, or during a commercial on TV, or riding in a car together? It would have made a perfect birthday gift. Better than a tie or another sweater.

I knew what he was trying to say. He was trying to say he loved me too. “I know you love me Dad. I have always known.”

Satisfied I understood, he settled back into the pillow and closed his eyes.

And then I wondered, why do we wait to tell someone how much they mean to us? Why do we wait to send someone flowers until they die? Why do we allow minutes, hours, weeks, months, maybe years pass before we reach out to someone who means so much to us? The Bible says no man is promised tomorrow. We have only this moment to say, “I love you.” Take this moment. Use it.

Are you waiting for someone to tell you they love you? They ache to hear these words.  

From that day, to this, I never spoke with my mom without saying, “I love you.” I told my children every day until they left home that I loved them, and now whenever we speak, or see one another. It’s natural to us. We hug, we kiss. It’s the only way to be.

And so, I leave you with this song.

 And to you, I love you. Always.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Nylons and Alcohol



I was overjoyed when my parents gave permission for me to attend my first middle school  dance held at a church. Who was happier, them or me?—I couldn’t decide.

 Adding to the excitement around the house one of my new friends came over to get ready with me. All our girlish laughter and “oooing” and “ahhhhing” about our makeup, new dresses, hairdos, and jewelry were a precursor to the anticipation of an amazing evening ahead. It also made me feel as though for the first time in my life I belonged. I belonged here in Delavan, Wisconsin with these people.

 As my new friend jimmied into her nylons, a large hole with a wide run appeared.

                “I can’t wear this!” she tearfully admitted tossing it aside. “What am I going to do now?”

                “No worries, I have more. Take one.” I applied my eyelash curler and along with getting the eyelashes, I caught a bit of skin in the mix.  “Ouch!” Horrid pain hit my face.

                “Which drawer is it in?” she stood next to my dresser examining it as though trying to see through the drawers.

                “Second one down. Go on, take what you need.” I went back to rubbing my eye as I heard the sound of the drawer sliding open followed quickly by clinking glass.

                “Robin! What are these bottles of Jim Bean doing in here?” Her eyes widened but I thought nothing of it, so I blithely answered.

                “Oh, that’s my dad’s alcohol. I’m hiding it from him.” Finally my eyelashes were curled. I smiled at myself and turned to look at my friend who had a frozen expression on her face. “What’s wrong?”

                “You have alcohol in your underwear drawer that you are hiding from your dad that is what is wrong. What if your mom finds out?”

                “Breath easy. She’s the one who put it there. In fact I have alcohol all over my room. There’s more in my sweater drawer and in shoe boxes up on a shelf.” I felt my face turning red as I walked across the room and shut the drawer, asking why I always spilled my guts so freely. There was no reason to explain in great detail. I should have stopped with the question, but expounded instead.

She squinted her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest looking as though she might blow up at me. I knew that look.  Well if she was going to be like that then I decided to give her more to get mad about.

                “There’s more in our boat house down by the lake.”

                “That’s plain weird. My parents keep theirs in a liquor cabinet.”

                One word from her to any group of friends and I was toast. I shivered, and not in a good way,  thinking about all the church dance gossip that would be spread tonight. Parents were bound to find out.

                “You are really something.” She clucked.

                I flopped down on my bed thinking how to explain this. This girl had a normal household with a normal dad. She'd never understand. This was the first time I had friends and now I was about to lose them all.

                “You are one very lucky girl.” She sat beside me and smoothed out her dress.

                “I-I-I am? Me? Lucky?”

                “Yes, once word gets out, you are going to be the most popular girl in school!”

                “Come on girls!” My mom called from the stairs. “You don’t want to be late for the dance do you?”

I pulled on her arm as she walked toward the door and blurted, “My dad is an alcoholic and to keep him from drinking it all at once, Mom hides the bottles all over the place. Please don’t tell anyone.”

                “You want to be popular don’t you? Alcohol will be your ticket to homecoming and everywhere else once you get into high school, and I will be right beside you.” She starred at me hard.
"Please don't. It's not something I want people to know about."
“Oh, all right. I’ll keep my mouth shout but it will be hard. I am known as the class gossip." 

At the dance I saw her whisper to nearly everyone --certainly all the boys, and then smile in my direction.  No wonder there wasn’t a song I wasn’t asked to dance. I didn’t say anything to them, as usual, but not because I was shy this time but because I was mortified. I knew the only reason boys were asking me to dance was they were hopeful I’d let them in my underwear—that is for booze. One even winked at me as the song ended. Now everyone would dislike me more for not giving them bottles of alcohol. I closed my eyes wishing I could fly away.

At ten, Mom drove us home in her Oldsmobile. I sat staring out the window wondering how many days I could ditch school with being fake sick again. How many diseases were left in the world that I hadn't tried out yet? Here I thought moving was going to be a do-over but instead it turned out to be the same thing again. Maybe  worse.

Mom pulled up to the girls house and told me to walk her to the door. That was the last thing I ever wanted to do but I was the obedient daughter.

As we got to the porch I said, “See ya.”

She turned toward me and said, “You know, I once thought you were the luckiest girl in the school for living on the lake, having your own boat, and buying all the clothes you wanted. But  I don’t wish I were you anymore. I know what your life is like.”

My awful, awful life. Tears rimmed my eyes.  How I wanted to tell her that were great parts to my life as well, but what the use, she had made up her mind about me. It was too late.

She took my hand and squeezed it. “I admire you. You are the bravest person I know. Every day you come to school with a big smile on your face and make us laugh. It’s good to know you. By the way, you are safe with me. I didn’t tell anyone about the alcohol, just as I promised. I don’t break promises, especially not to my best friend.”

“I’m your best friend?” My heart leaped up in my chest.

“Yes you are.”

She didn’t care about those things around me. She cared about me. And with that I finally knew what real friendship was……

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Once Upon A Time, I Wasn’t Popular and Dad was Drunk.



I loved school when I was way little in elementary school.  As I was experiencing continued scholastic success in third grade lessons while dressed in pastel dresses and pinafores, my parents decided it was time to change schools for my older sis and younger brother and me. Soon were enrolled in an elite private Chicago school. I wore a scratchy heavy nay blue skirt with a white button down ivy league blouse.

Gone were the pleasant days reading and doing math problems in a no stress environment. We were preparing for college before I could even spell ‘university’. It didn’t take long to discover I not only struggled with the rigors of schoolwork, but I didn’t have any friends either.  When you are 8 and friendless, and getting F’s on your assignments, it isn’t a very good thing. I felt stupid and lonely punctuated by the fact my siblings were both at the top of all the birthday party lists and class percentages.

Suddenly I no longer loved school.  It was hard, hurtful.  The only way of escape was for me to play sick. I just had to get sick. How? I stood in front of the open window while dripping wet on a cold winter morning, did no good. Not even a sniffle.
I turned to the TV and relatives for help. If there was  a new disease barreling down on America from another country, or planet, I had it too. If a relative got ill, I got ill too. I found that Asthma was by far was the trickiest because I had to wheeze a lot which made me light headed and I had to sit down.

Meanwhile Dad was getting into trouble with Mom. He disappeared a lot, returning days later saying he had a heart attack and didn’t know where he was. Sounded plausible to me but not to her. I knew that look on her face. He had done something and it was bad.

By the time I turned 9, I learned all the classic signs of a heart attack thanks to my Dad, who had learned it from patients he had observed while drying out in hospitals.  So here we were, Dad saying his heart hurt which caused him to stumble around, as I grabbed my chest  told Mom my heart hurt too, but never mentioned it was because no one liked me. Dad and me. A pair of fakers. Only Mom knew I  didn’t have a heart attack. My young age might have been the giveaway. Yet, I still had a heart problem. Not being accepted hurt.

Either way you look at it, my mom had her hands full with both Dad and me.

By the time I reached 13, I was badly failing all my classes. After all, it was hard to concentrate on schoolwork while studying new diseases all of which I would develop sooner or later. 7th grade was definitely was going to be a do over.  But the important thing was my health, right?

Then the first miracle of my life occurred (I’m Christian) due to Dad’s drinking, Mom made him retire. At the end of the school year, we moved to Delavan. I still wasn’t advancing to the 8th grade but the secret was safe with me and my parents and my brother and my sister and my best friend who still lived in Chicago.  Now I was about to revisit 7th grade with a clean slate.  In exchange I would get well.

Delavan became my safe place. My happiness. We summered there since my birth and now to actually live year round in this country of hills and lakes,  was beyond the most wonderful thing I could ever imagine.

I hoped Dad would feel the same way too and give up his bottle like I gave up my diseases to embrace the moment. But we each had our own road to travel separately. My parents bought another new house on the lake and my bedroom looked out at the water…filled with ripples and waves with vacationer noise during the summer, and still as death during the winter. After sneaking out for bar visits, I still had to push my drunken Dad along from behind to make it home in time for dinner. But at least he was home each night now watching Gun Smoke as I did homework.

 School was great. I knew what the teachers were talking about. It was sorta a review for me. And the most astonishing thing of all was,  I suddenly had friends. They sat with me at lunch. They sent notes to me during class.  They called me at night and also on weekends. We talked on my brand new aqua Princess phone--private number to boot.

I hardly knew how to react.  I grinned and hummed. At the same time, boys began to notice me in a positive way which I found totally unnerving.  I didn’t know how to talk to them. In spite of it, I went steady a lot but never saw them outside of school. During passing periods, we sometimes looked at one another and, at times, even smiled. That was daring, to be noted in my diary each evening along with musings on the young Prince Charles of England. Soon the boy of interest would hand his ring to a mutual friend who in turn asked me if I wanted to go steady with so and so. I did.

It was kind of nice to have a boyfriend to think about without any complications such as those of the interaction genre.

One time, the boy  had the boldness to actually call me on the phone. I sat stone faced, stomach in knots, not speaking into the receiver to even say ‘hello’.  Since he was the only one in the conversation, Jon quickly ran out of topics and then shook out the news paper to read to me.  There wasn’t a lot of news in the small town so the paper was only a few pages long,  with a lot of advertising which he decided to skip over.  When the obits were completed, he told me goodbye and we hung up.  Next time he called I had made a list of things to say. I was prepared. (And by the way, this gave me the idea for The Christmas Edition, Journey to Paradise, which I wrote many years later)

Report card time came and I passed all my classes. Hallelujahs from my mom rang out in our house for weeks.

But Dad still drank. In fact, he had all the time in the world to devote to it now that he wasn’t interrupted by work anymore. What changed me for the better only served to be his enemy.

 When the case deliveries of alcohol arrived from his Chicago nightclub, Mom would set about hiding the bottles in unexpected places all over the house. It included a very embarrassing spot that one of my friends discovered. It worried me that this would get out and I would lose it all again.

Was my possible friendless future about to become my fate; I’d be a rum soaked beach bum before my twenty first birthday while everyone else was going to college to become doctors and lawyers, or at least horticulturists.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Rules May Not Be Ignored, or Can They?

Ever since I became a serious writer at the age of 10, I learned the ever changing rules of writing. By the time I actually had pieces published, there was a prolifera of new rules to follow. Point of View is the one that trips me up most often in my writing and most likely the most important rule to not mess up on.

Let's Discuss:
* First-person point of view is in use when a character narrates the story with I-me-my-mine in his or her speech. The advantage of this point of view is that you get to hear the thoughts in the story through his or her eyes. However, remember that no narrator, like no human being, has complete self-knowledge.
* Second-person point of view, in which the author uses you and your, is rare.  The author almost makes the reader a participant.
*Third-person point of view is that of an outsider looking at the action. The writer may choose third-person omniscient, in which the thoughts of every character are open to the reader, or the reader enters only one character's mind, sometimes throughout the entire work. The main choice is between first and third. Only one of my books was written in first person, Passages.

This is not a lesson in writing. There are plenty of books and websites out there better at describing these for you than I can do here.

Months ago, as I was perusing Amazon for good summer books. One of my choices was The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan.  As each book arrived, I opened the box and then stacked it on my nightstand. This was the next in line to be read. Between the end of the school year and moving houses, I had forgotten what made me select this book.A few days ago I began reading The Sisterhood, and am nearly finished, having read to the wee hours of the morning in my bed, pillows piled high behind my head with the nightlight aglow.

Being an author, reading can be ruined for me because I am constantly catching errors in other's works and spotting areas that seem to not work for me. However, this was so interesting and well-written, I was over half way through The Sisterhood when I realized it was self pubbed by Amazon publishing. It shocked me! Why? Let me explain.

Immediately, I got out of bed and at three am went onto Amazon to see how this book was selling. What I spotted first was that there were well over 800 reviews. Now, even if the author had all her friends leave a review, surely she didn't know 800 people to ask. I know I don't. The book is in the 5,000 selling mark which is very good when you consider there are millions of books for sale on this website.

So kudos to Helen Bryan. And this isn't her first book either. Although the books seems perfect in the grammatical and historical sense to me, she messes up her point of view all the time. It took me well into the book to realize this because it was seamlessly done.

Normally when POV changes its marked by a new chapter or a break in the chapter. She did neither. It went from one person to the next to omnipresent, to historical information all in the same paragraph and sometimes in the same sentence. I wasn't confused either. I kept up. Head hopping is a definite literary 'no-no' these days  but she ignored the rules; made it work.

Will I begin writing with different POV all mingled together? No. I am sure my editor is thanking me as she reads this. But I am a rule follower and like to please the publishers I work with.

However, this book made me take another look at different author's styles and decide there might be more than one way something should be done. The important thing is to write a book that the reader cannot put down and this author has certainly done it.