Sometimes everything has to be enscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that small, bright, and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart. David Whyte

Writing 101, Day Twelve: Dark Clouds on the Horizon – Is It Happening Again?

These conversations with my son make my heart crumble.
Pain “so bad it makes me cry, Mom.”
Three times the pain has come. Twice it has receded.

Pain that stops him in his tracks.
Wife who shoulders the load of work to be done.
Two sons whose life can’t be put on hold.

Current pain that must be hidden (he believes) from co-workers.
Not now! When this promising new job replaces the drought of unemployment.
He must be strong. Grown men don’t cry. But Moms do.

Three weeks ago a telephone call to say the pain is back.
Doctors to see. Hopes raised, replaced with doubt. He’s been through this before.
An appointment with a specialist today. What will the conversation be now?


Writing 101, Day Eleven: A Sucker-Punch Assignment.

The house I moved into when I was twelve years old was the perfect size for holding our family’s memories. I can describe that house. But after reading today’s assignment I couldn’t stop there. I was stunned re-membering the sweep of the following twenty-seven years.

We moved into 118 West Harding Street when I was entering the 6th grade. The house was exotic from the point of view of my two sisters and me. Our brother was eighteen months old. His fascination was the fish pond in the back yard. Our mother told us to watch him if he got too close. The living room was two stories high. It became the perfect spot for a gigantic Christmas tree. A second floor hallway opened onto a balcony overlooking the living room. I thought it looked like something out of a Hollywood movie. Not that I’d seen many. The whole family habitually dropped clothes to be laundered over the balcony onto the couch below rather than carrying them downstairs. Very practical I think. After my wedding ten years later I tossed my bridal bouquet over the balcony for my bridesmaids to catch.

The living room and the large back yard were my favorite parts of the house. I also liked the stairs leading from the upstairs hall, curving at the bottom near the front door. As a teenager I loved descending the stairs, slowly for effect, on the evening of the many formal dances we had back then. I would be wearing a formal evening dress stiff with crinoline petticoats. My tuxedoed date would be waiting at the bottom of the stairs for my entrance. It didn’t get any better than that.

The kitchen was nondescript. Years later when my sisters and I visited with our babies we fed them in the kitchen in an assortment of high chairs borrowed from the neighbors. Customarily as a family we gathered around the dining room table for meals, always begun by Daddy saying a blessing. He was Catholic but at our mother’s insistence we were Protestants like her. Years later I discovered I knew by heart the traditional Catholic blessing.

Twenty-four years after we moved into the house, my husband and I and with our three sons, the youngest of whom was eighteen months, joined my sister and her son to celebrate Christmas with our parents. My mother was recovering from heart failure, but seemed better. She celebrated by throwing an open house on Christmas Eve. After the party we younger folk went out to supper with friends. I looked over the balcony as I was heading downstairs to go out to eat. I saw my mother filling her grandchildren’s Christmas stockings. Just after midnight, early on Christmas morning after we had gone to bed, my dad woke us up. He told us the Emergency Squad was on the way to take our mother to the hospital. She was having a heart attack. The doctors were unable to resuscitate her.

The doctor sedated our dad. My sister and I couldn’t sleep. We decided to get the Christmas turkey in the oven and begin preparations for Christmas dinner. We knew that’s what Mama would have wanted. The grandchildren woke up early Christmas Day, as usual. Santa Claus had come. Christmas stockings bulged. Packages wrapped in glittering paper waited under the Christmas tree. It was easy to imagine my mother was still upstairs. Until my son asked, “Where’s Grandma”?


writing 101, Day Ten: TGIF -It’s Mom’s Day Out

This assignment and my thoughts after ten days of Writing 101 have converged. I’ve concluded that after nine days of writing, all my posts come from similar points of view. They unmistakably belong in the same family. I’ve marveled at other writers’ looking at the assignments and writing stories I would not have imagined. I’ve read language so beautiful it makes me cry. I’ve noticed remarkable twists and surprise endings, and perceived a world view, or at least a life stage, different from mine yet understandable to me. This morning I breathed a sigh of relief. I understand that I write the way I write because that is who I am. After being around for almost eight decades I have lived countless stories. I am a Southerner therefore it is natural for me to recall my own stories and write about them. I’m an English major and love words for themselves. I’ve been reading books from a very early age. Today I woke up thinking I know that I can write. I have thoughts and stories that will engage other readers’ interest. I often write from the point of view of an observer. I have a distinct voice. I will keep on writing and see where it leads me.

Today’s assignment is to write about a favorite childhood meal. I’m writing from the point of view of the favorite meal of the tired mother of two rambunctious little boys seeking a time-out for herself.

Every Friday Mary Elena came for a few hours to clean our small apartment. Every Friday I took my two-year old son with me to grocery shop while my baby son took his morning nap. Mary Elena loved my boys and was glad to mind them as long as they were asleep. In the afternoon while both children were napping, I treated myself to the joy of my week – lunch alone in a restaurant. It was heaven to be where no one would ask me questions, other than a waitress taking my order. No one spilled milk, spread baby food over his face, or just plain fussed. Nothing at all was expected of me. Instead, while I enjoyed my lunch (I have no idea what I ate. That wasn’t the point.) I listened to the conversations of ladies at nearby tables. Most of them were older than me. I listened as they exchanged details of health issues I wouldn’t face for years. They talked about grown children and their concerns over money and jobs. They delighted in giving accounts of travels they had just returned from or would soon embark on. I could only dream of such things. I took the last sip of coffee, put my cloth napkin on the table, paid my bill and returned refreshed to my momentarily clean apartment and the hugs of my waiting little boys. As much as I loved my Mom’s Day Out, I always came home grateful for my own life and challenges as the mother of young children. I would not have traded lives with the ladies who lunched for anything.


Writing 101,DayNine:Changing Moccasins -Park Food

Leave the sidewalk with its early morning crush of people hurrying to get from here to there. They rush to someplace or no place, eyes cast down, unseeing, missing the rubbish, dramas large and small and scenes of careless beauty that clutter city streets. Turn onto the path that traces slowly through the park between trees waltzing in the wind and flowers nodding bright-colored heads. Take a seat on a bench. You’re in time for the show.

Look around. You can’t miss seeing stone archways and walls sparkling with iridescent paint, sprayed in arcs of color creating forms known only to the artists’ imagination. Graffiti. Street art. The park buildings’ bare cinder-block walls are tempting canvasses that feed the imaginations of artists in the rough. Youths with something to say to a world mostly deaf and blind to them. They shout it in wild pictures that are there in the morning and scrubbed clean by nightfall. The artists will return in the dark and begin again. They do not give up.

The workers who care for the park look at the graffiti and see a job to do. They get out their cleaning solution and brushes and go to work. Day after day the push and pull between artists and workers goes on. The workers’ jobs put food on the table for their families. Day after day they persevere.

And what about you, sitting on the park bench. What so you see? Art provokes thought and gives nourishment to the soul. You aren’t required either to love or hate art. Just know that beneath the scourges and victories of human history art endures.

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Writing 101, Day Eight: Antique Antics -The Hoosier Belle

I am an original Hoosier Belle cow bell, size No.3, made of brass, with a handle for attaching me to a rope around a cow’s neck . You can tell from the picture on my side. Also you can read that I was made by the Riverside Bell Co. of New York who recommends that you “buy no other”. Look inside me and you will see my clapper which makes a pleasant ding-dong sound while a cow grazes in the pasture. I’m not telling my age, but I go back to the 1890’s. Over the years I’ve lost the shine of my brass but I can still create a distinct sound. I have diversified my talents.

A gentleman farmer who kept a couple of cows for milk and butter bought me at the local dry goods store. Time passed, and also cow keeping. The milk man came along and the cows were sold. I was relegated to a storage shed until 1934, when the farmers’ youngest daughter got married. A whimsical groomsman discovered a new use for me. He and others in the wedding party tied me to the back bumper of the bride and groom’s car. I accompanied them on their way with a festive, if one-noted,clanging. The article about the wedding in the Sunday paper mentioned what the bride wore, but not a word about me.

Time and a generation passed and in 1959 the daughter of the 1934 bride decided to get married. Family came from out-of-town to celebrate her wedding. I was there, stored in the garage, but not lost to memory. Aunts, uncles and older cousins remembered me and retrieved me to play another wedding prank. They wrestled down the groom and put me on a rope around his ankle. The wedding photographer took a picture of the bride, groom and me which was included in the Bride’s Book. Too bad that it couldn’t have gone viral.

My next incarnation was a big leap from being member of the wedding. I was put to a practical use, maybe not so far-fetched from calling cows home. Part of the fourth generation of the family are three rowdy, energetic and curious boys who are the sons of the couple who married in 1959. These boys stumbled upon me hiding in the basement. They couldn’t imagine my purpose. Experimenting with possibilities they gave me a good shake. No one had ever heard the loud, far-carrying sound I was capable of. The boys’ parents thought of a neat use for a noisy old cow bell. At supper time they rang me to call the boys home for supper. Every one in the neighborhood recognized my sound and if the boys didn’t hear it their friends did and let them know it was time to eat.

The boys grew up and have children of their own. The 1959 bride has white hair but on the inside she can’t imagine she is that old. I’m older than she is and can relate She rented an apartment and moved to be near her sons and grandchildren. I’m here in her apartment, retired to a window ledge where I am placed next to old and new objects she cherishes. I think I will outlast her. I wonder where I’ll go next.

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Writing 101, Day Seven: Give and Take

Give and take. Isn’t that what life is about? It’s like you can’t be in two literal places at one time. Or even in two life stages at the same time. Giving and taking infers sharing, trade-offs and compromise which occur in interactions between us and others, or within ourselves. Very good things in themselves.

But contrast, aah, that is where the juicy, messy stuff is. According to the dictionary, the verb contrast is “to place in opposition to set off differences”. Contrast is where I find a world of nuance and subtlety, differences coming together into a new forms, brainstorming producing possibilities that participants never imagined, the third way of being which results in true choice. Contrast heightens the beauty of separate objects. Contrast makes space for humankind to shine gloriously in the uniqueness of each of us. Contrast has a shadow side. Sometimes contrast makes people see the worst in each other when they are blinded by hanging on to forms of differences that can divide.

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Writing 101,Day Six: A Character Building Experience

I didn’t expect to meet a new person – at least new to me – at my 60th High School Reunion. He approached me as I entered the restaurant for Saturday brunch. His first words to me were “What are you reading these days?” Of course I knew him, but I couldn’t recall ever having an in-depth conversation with him during our high school years or at previous reunions. And I’m absolutely certain that no one at a class reunion ever began a conversation with me about books.

In our senior year I was voted “Most Intellectual Girl”. I was pictured in the Year Book standing in the chemistry lab wearing one of those awful rubber aprons that were mandatory protective gear. I would have preferred to be on the “most popular girl” list or at least be a cheer leader back then. But through the years I have grown to cherish my intellect. When my classmate asked me about books he became my long-lost new friend.

We discovered that we like the same authors and had recently read some of the same books. Our conversation was a book lover’s feast! My friend said another of our classmates had recommended a “must read” book to him. Funny thing, a book discussion class I’m part of is scheduled to read that book in the fall. He had the great idea that we read the book at the same time and compare notes by email. I accepted his invitation.

High School Reunions and I have an odd connection. I married my high school sweetheart, also a class mate, but we never attended reunions together. After we divorced we attended our 40th Class Reunion separately. At that reunion a classmate I had not known well sought me out to tell me he had been secretly in love with me in the 6th grade. He swept me off my feet with this romantic line which was the beginning of a long distance courtship. My middle years were fertile ground for taking risks and I married him. Finally our story fizzled out and by the time of our 60th High School Reunion I was single again. I was done with finding husbands at class reunions. My serendipitous book-friendship suits me just fine.

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Writing 101,Day Five:Be Brief

It was a crinkled piece of paper lying there on the edge of the path near the elementary school, almost obscured by weeds and grass. Thinking Green I picked it up, planning to put it in the recycle bin. A bit of color caught my eye. I wondered if maybe it was a picture bound for a family’s refrigerator art gallery that had fallen out of a back pack. I smoothed out the small, creased bit of paper and found instead a note written with a bright red Sharpie in the misspelled words of a child. “I love you Mom. Please don’t cry anymore. Ever since those men came to our door and told us Daddy isn’t coming home from Afsganikstan things aren’t the same.I can hear you crying when you go into your bedroom at night, even though you think I can’t. I’m almost getting tall. I can help you. I know I’m not a man yet. but I will be. I’ve got your back, Mom. Love, Joey.”


Writing 101,Day Four: The Serial Killer

In the posts for assignments about music yesterday, many writers talked about losses of relationships and sadness and moving on. I reflected that I married my two serious relationships and later divorced them when things were not working  out. It was a different time. I’m sure I felt loss after the divorce of my first husband, the father of my children. Tomorrow would have been our 55th wedding anniversary. We divorced in 1990 after thirty years of marriage. I married my second husband in 1995. We were married eighteen years and divorced a year ago. My story is not about divorce, though, but about what followed.

My first husband and I  were high school sweethearts. We had the traditional 50’s wedding. It was followed by the birth of three sons, buying our first home,  performing the expected male/female division of labor, and in the 60’s (not in the original playbook) growing apart into a parallel marriage. During our marriage I was alone in body and soul. I created a life for myself but was still lonely. I went to theological seminary to get a Masters of Divinity degree.  When my last son went off to college I completed my degree and only then felt free to strike off on my own. I asked for a divorce and received it. I pastored a little 150 year old church in a semi-rural area not far from the city where my former husband lived and where our sons returned to from time to time. My primary emotion during the upheaval of divorce was anger – an expression of my feelings not “allowed” in the context of my marriage.I learned to use  anger to fuel my breaking our of a very stuck place. I grieved what I could not give my sons in the way of a stable family and home. I did not regret my new freedom.

Several years later I went to my 40th high school reunion. My former husband was there with a lovely woman who was now his companion. Another classmate arrived with a photo album of pictures he had taken during elementary school, including one of me. He showed me the picture and asked if I knew that he had been in love with me in the 6th grade. I laughed and replied “No”. I wasn’t interested in boys then. That was the beginning of many conversations and my eventual decision to move to the city where he lived and marry him. I thought my sons would think me giddy but I was determined to follow my bliss. We had an untraditional wedding and lived an unconventional life. We had a great story! But not a true foundation. In time my husband spent more and more time with his work and later his grandchildren. Again I created a life for myself.  Now that I have left him I have so many memories that are triggered by music, reading about the places where we traveled, having supper alone, picturing the space I lived in with him, remembering my dreams of “what might have been” and  feeling the emptiness of living alone for the rest of my life. And knowing that I am where I belong. I’m grateful for my tears and the softness inside that reminds me of the good things we had together. He has a new wife now who suits him well. And I’m beginning a new life again, back where I started.

In the midst of my marriage to my second husband, my first husband re-entered my life. By then two of my sons and their families had moved back to their original home town. We’d all get together in one of my son’s home for Christmas. By then the family had grown to sixteen people, including my first husband’s companion and my second husband. As years went by my first husband and I reconnected over our long history and sharing grandchildren. When I flew to visit family he would pick me up at the airport. Now that I have moved back to where I began, he regularly invites me out for coffee and our conversations continue. In March he, his companion and I traveled together to our 60th high school reunion. The other day while we had coffee he was trying to think of the name of a cousin of his he hasn’t seen in a long time. I came up with her name. Later I realized that I am the only person on earth he could have had this conversation with. I know he has my back as long as we’re alive, but this is far more than that assurance. We are in a place beyond marriage. There is a saying that in Ghana you don’t know where you are going and you don’t know how to get there yet you arrive just the same. 






Writing 101, Day Three:Commit to a Writing Practice

Watching Jeopardy! I’m in awe of contestants who know the names of countless groups and the music they’ve been making for the last fifty years. Beginning in the 40’s and 50’s music for me was the Hit Parade, Broadway show tunes, church hymns, Grand Opera, and the music of Cole Porter and Gershwin that is perennially in season. The Beatles and Elvis came on the scene when I was a teenager who lived in Mississippi, but I wasn’t interested in their music – then. My friends and I used to play an old 33 rpm recording of the opera Aida and dance around the living room to the music of The Grand March from Aida. We could sing every song from South Pacific. We knew lots of hymns because going to church was what everyone did on Sunday morning.

You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel was my “good luck” song when I was a teenager. I loved the song the first time I heard it. It wasn’t played on the radio very often and when it was, something good seemed to happen for me. I lived then in a small town in the Mississippi Delta, close to other small towns. When someone in one town had a dance, friends in the other towns were invited. Usually the dances were at the local Elk’s Club, and there was a live band. I remember a time when a dance was being held in a town a little farther away from where I lived than the others. My parents had decided that I couldn’t to go. I was heart-broken. The day of the dance I hung around the house and was especially polite. I looked for ways to be helpful. I skulked around in my beseeching mood most of the day but nothing changed. Suppertime came and went. I thought any chance of my going to the dance was fading. I went to my room to listen to the radio and found You’ll Never Walk Alone playing. While the song was playing, my mother appeared to tell me I could go to the dance after all. I gasped in surprise and delight. My good luck song had done it again!

The elementary school my children attended in Cleveland, Ohio had a wonderful ritual to celebrate sixth grade graduation called a “clap out”. The students gathered at the top of the stairs leading from the second floor to the first. As each name was called the student descended the stairs while all the parents, other family members, friends and neighbors clapped. Sounds simple, and it worked magic because we all sang “On Top Of the World” by the Carpenters as a serenade to the kids. I hadn’t heard the song before and the words struck a deep chord inside me. I thought of my first son whose graduation it was. He wasn’t an especially good student. He had gotten into trouble with the principle in almost every grade in some pretty creative ways. He was loving and very dear to my heart. I imagined him setting off to conquer Junior High School or at least give it a good try. And for now he was”on top of the world”.

Next week I’ll go to that same elementary school for the clap out of a one of my grandsons and to the same Junior High School for another grandson’s clap out celebration. I will be with their fathers who have grown into men who make me proud. I understand that the songs they sing have changed, but I know the magic will be the same.

In my vintage years, when I lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, I went to a church that welcomed everybody, period. The first time I worshiped there I could see diversity written on the faces and bodies of the choir. The lead soprano sat in a chair because of her disability. The faces of the choir were a rainbow. The choir director for a brief time served at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where MLK Jr. was Pastor. Sometimes the director played a Steinway piano to accompany the choir. Other times a gentleman in his 90’s who wore his white hair in a ponytail accompanied on an organ.

The congregation permanently rearranged the pews so it was possible to form a circle around them and sing holding hands. Every Sunday we ended the service singing The Lord Bless You and Keep You. Members who move away come back to visit and say what they miss most is the closing circle. My favorite singing circle was when we celebrated MLK Jr. Sunday annually and sang Lift Every Voice and Sing holding hands and swaying to the music. We could see tears in one another’s’ eyes and feel that we were united as one body and soul in hope.