Sunday, April 29, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom

88 years ago today, my mother was born. She presented to the world as a chubby, pink bundle with wispy brown hair. Her parents named her Verla Mae. Those were the days of home births. Pre and post natal care did not exist; no footprints were taken; no lab work was done.

Mother grew to be a beautiful young woman with green eyes shining in a heart shaped face. She married her childhood sweetheart. Their first child, me, was conceived just before Dad left for basic training in World War Two. I was almost two years old when he returned at war's end. Between 1946 and 1951, our little family grew by three more children.

Mom's creativity took many forms. Halloween was one of her favorite times. She made our costumes and applied face paints or make up before we kids went trick or treating around town. And for years I kept the elephant costume she made when I played the mastodon in a high school play. She made our Easter outfits and every other creation on an old treadle sewing machine.

Mom loved every holiday, but Christmas was her favorite time of year. She baked Christmas cookies so wonderful that even little kids hated to eat them. Santa heads were decorated with fluffy icing beard and chocolate chip eyes. Christmas trees iced with green frosting and candy baubles looked as festive as the real thing. Every raindeer was Rudolph with a red icing nose and a jaunty look. Candy canes, angels, stars -- all were decorated with different color frostings and so tasty that I can still remember the first bite. A dab of icing stuck each cookie to a paper lace doily. Beautiful, appealing to the eye, and special because of the effort put into it. Mom's cookies signified to everyone what she was as a person.

Mom divorced our father when my brother was a baby. From that point on she became a master at creating something out of almost nothing. Yes, we were poor as the proverbial churchmice but did not realize it then. She fed us nourishing food, made every holiday special, and took any job she could find to support her little brood.

Mom died more than twenty years ago, but I still remember life when she was in it, baking cookies, simmering chicken and noodles or navy bean soup. So I just wanted to say Happy Birthday, Mom. The older I get, the more I miss you.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Strange Bedfellows?

Garage sales and gusting prairie winds are the bedfellows of which I speak. My mother used to say, "People will buy a piece of paper if it's priced right." That might have been true in her day, but not today. Maybe we've all watched too many episodes of The Antiques Road Show or Cash in the Attic. We're all looking for that ten thousand dollar treasure, bought for a nickel.

Box after box of treasures accumulated by three families made their way to our garage from pick up trucks. Unloading and arranging said treasures was a royal pain with a stiff wind blowing sand and dust in our eyes. Anything weighing less than five pounds blew off the tables, keeping the young, strong legs of my nephew busy chasing down the wind-blown treasure. Shoppers persevered with mostly good humor and high spirits. Folks from Kansas, Nebraska, and even Colorado cruised the tables while holding to their hats or skirts, grinning a greeting, "What a beautiful day!" Yes, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, and people living in the heartland of our country take the wind in stride.

Those pieces of paper of which my mother spoke would not have lasted long yesterday. Pillows and curtains blew down a slope into our woods. One departing woman lost a stuffed animal purchase. We found it rolling in the driveway after she left, pushed along by the wind. Two of my husband's treasured green glass canning jars blew off the table onto concrete, but did not break. The day was interesting but draining. I ended my day covered with grit and wind-blown to distraction.

The third bedfellow added to the mix is my writing. I'm not inspired right now, but keep working at it. A short story submitted to the Kansas Voices contest didn't make the winners' list. But a poem submitted to Bellowing Ark fared better. The editor said it was one of my best poems in his opinion, even though my customary sturm und drang were missing.

That's my garage sale in rural Kansas report. I'll spend today recuperating and regrouping from the excitement and the wind.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Has anybody seen my Muse?

Writers and poets speak frequently about their Muse, the ethereal spirit that inspires our work and whispers sweet words into our ears. My Muse has been missing for quite some time and I can't give you a good physical description of her. At one time she was a strict taskmistress, a glowing alter ego, a top notch idea advisor. My personal Muse inhabited the joy in my smile, the light in my eyes, the electrical impulses in my brain. She pulled my random thoughts together and transformed them into poetry or prose. She memorialized my mother and grandparents and created flesh and blood people out of fictional characters. She left as suddenly as she came. I miss her, especially now, when the world is providing such pithy grist for writers and poets.

One of my favorite poets, Christina Pacosz, writes breathtaking poetry about the Iraq situation, Afghan women, and the plight of suffering humanity everywhere. Her work is pertinent to the times, beautiful and touching. A long-time favorite novelist, C.H. Foertmeyer, just had his 12th book published. Badr -- an intriguing, imaginative, surreal story of an Iraqi and an American -- just may be his best book yet. Pacosz and Foertmeyer express well their shocks, fears and hopes for a shaken world.

Without my Muse, my literary tongue is silenced. Even my thoughts are hogtied. Maybe I took her for granted. Maybe I ignored her nudgings and she finally gave up on me. Or maybe she's simply on vacation, regrouping because I worked her too hard for several years. Wherever she is, I miss her and wish she'd come home.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter!!

Our morning here on the Ponderosa dawned sunny and cold with a clear blue sky. Today I commemorate the occasion with thoughts of my mother and grandparents. Mom was a woman of limited financial means but struggled to celebrate each holiday in memorable ways for her four children.

All four of her little munchkins always had an Easter basket on Easter morning, filled with colored eggs and chocolate rabbits and marshmallow chicks. Sometimes when she could afford it, a stuffed animal graced each basket. But Easter was more than treats in our family. We all had some semblance of a new Easter outfit for church -- new shoes and white anklets with ruffles for the girls, a new bow tie for our brother, sometimes new dresses Mom sewed on her machine. We walked as a family to the old Methodist Church down by the city park, looking spiffy and feeling grand. I'm sure we all had wide grins as we slid into the pew to sit with Grandma and Grandpa for Easter services.

We all knew the Easter story from the time we were toddlers. We learned that message in church. And Christ's message of love was taught daily by our mother and grandparents. Love and sacrifice was their message to four little kids who'd had a hard upbringing but did not realize it then. That message will not be lost as long as we remember those early times of innocence. When people wonder why I write so often about my mother and grandparents, that is the reason. They loved and protected us, corrected our missteps firmly, and lived the Easter message in their daily lives.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A report from the Ponderosa

My brother calls our new place "the Ponderosa." Two acres does not quite qualify for Ponderosa status, but those acres do seem to grow incrementally when it comes to yard work.

Life in the Land of Oz has its excitements and unexpected shocks. An eagle or large hawk took one of our outdoor cats. That's what we think since she simply disappeared and her remains have not been found anywhere on or around our property. Such a loss was not on our wish list. Then, our famous Kansas winds blew a strip of shingles off our roof. Reroofing the house was also not on our list of things to do. We planned to plant a garden, trees, and rose bushes this week, but that project will have to be postponed awhile because temps in the 70s and 80s swiftly plummeted into the 20s at night and 40s by day. Plainsdwellers often joke that we have to run our furnace in the morning and the air conditioner in the afternoon. That joke loses a bit of its humor when those wide temp variations start in MARCH.

Meanwhile, inside my climate controlled house, I'm working on a new writing project. I enjoy writing and the creative process involved, but it's darn hard work that, for most writers, produces very few rewards. My writing technique is that I don't write for fame or money. Unknown writers are better served if they don't have grand expectations. My writing projects are outcome oriented. I strive to create interesting stories, written in a distinctive style. Once that is accomplished I hope for a publisher willing to at least look at my work. I don't query agents because several very good writers I know are worse off now than they ever were before finding an agent. But thinking about publication is a moot point until this latest writing project is completed.

All in all, life is good here. Brightly colored songbirds flit from tree to tree around our house. Cardinals, bluejays, and woodpeckers swoop down to snag the bread I put out for them each morning. Except for the occasional trilling bird song or squawking of bluejays, life is quiet on the Ponderosa. This cold snap will end. Warm weather will arrive and stay until late fall. The trees will leaf out and our plantings will eventually grow, flower, or produce food. And barring any unforeseen complication. my latest writing project will bear fruit.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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