Writing In Retirement Blog

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving sign

Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday. It is a North American holiday – Oh yes, Canada enjoys that holiday too, but not on the same calendar day. In Canada, the celebration is on the second Monday of October, but in the USA it is the fourth Thursday of November. Traditionally it a day set aside to be thankful for the bounty of the Harvest, and the blessings received all year. It is a family day – a day that families gather to eat a bountiful meal, watch parades, and football!

The origins of Thanksgiving in the USA go back to the French and Spanish explorers who set aside thanksgiving time when they had safely arrived in the New World. In Jamestown, the tradition was born of having a feast to celebrate the harvest.

In my family, the day was celebrated with a groaning table of food – laid out with the ‘good china and glassware.’ My Mother and Grandmother would spend hours in the kitchen cooking the turkey and all the wonderful vegetables from our garden. Of course, no Thanksgiving day would be complete without Pumpkin pie – piled high with whipped cream. After the meal, the ladies would clean the table and divvy up the leftovers to the guests. Then they would wash and dry the good china and glasses for the next big event of Christmas Day. The men and sometimes the smallest children would retire to the TV set to watch football. I have some very good memories of listening to the family gossip as my mother, aunts, and Grandmother had me help with the dishes. I was always sorry to see the end of the day come.

I want to share with you the first memory I have of a Thanksgiving Day celebration. This took place at my grandparents’ house in Eden, Ohio.

Thanksgiving Table

Grandma’s Holiday Table

I awoke to the smell of pumpkin pies wafting through the house. The pleasant spicy smell at once told my brain that it was Thanksgiving Day, and we would soon be on our way to Grandma’s house. Being only five, I did not have many memories of celebration dinners, but those I did remember were full of colorful decorations, candy, and so much delicious food there was no way I could eat it all. I couldn’t wait for the day to start.

Soon mom had gotten myself and my two older sisters up and moving to wash and get ready to go for the hour and a half drive to Edon, Ohio, where my grandparents lived. Mom made our favorite cinnamon bread for breakfast. Then managed to shepherd us all into our matching dresses for this special event. I remember bouncing up and down at the back window with excitement as I awaited Dad packing the old black Chevy for the trip. At last, it was time!

The three of us girls piled into the backseat – with me in the middle because I was the littlest. I longed to be big enough to be able to sit by a window, but today I forgot my jealousy and sat quietly for the first fifteen minutes of the ride.

“Are we there yet?” I questioned.

My big sister, Aletha, punched my arm, “Of course not! Remember, we have to go out of town first, then to Harlan, then Hicksville, and then Edgerton and then we will get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.”

“Harlan, Hicksville, Edgerton!” All three of us repeatedly chanted. “Harlan, Hicksville, Edgerton …”

In the front seat, mom stopped talking to daddy and instead started us singing rounds of “Sweet Silver Bells.”

“Sweet Silver bells upon a slender stalk,

Lilies of the Valley grace my garden walk.

Oh don’t you wish

That you could hear them ring,

That can only happen if the fairies sing,”

 

Each of us knew when to chime in after mom had started the round. We went on and on until Mom stopped, and then each of us would stop in turn. Once we got started on rounds, we continue to sing such rounds, such as: “Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping, Brother John?”; “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”; and “Three Blind Mice.”   That would usually get us to Hicksville, where an Aunt that lived in a huge three-storied house where she rented out rooms. But today, we would not stop because we were going to Edon to eat Thanksgiving Day dinner with Grandma and Grandpa.

The three of us all began the chant again, “Harlan, Hicksville, Edgerton. Harlan, Hicksville, Edgerton.” As we saw the familiar signs taking us to Edgerton, Ohio, our excitement peaked.

“What do you suppose we will have to eat today?” Aletha asked.

“Turkey,” Martha and I shouted. “Mashed potatoes!” “Gravy!” “Peas!” “Corn on the cob!”

My mouth was watering by the time we pulled up to the familiar house of my Grandparents. They greeted us as usual. I hung back as my Grandmother always intimidated me. My refuge was my Grandfather. We were pals. He, too, was quiet as I was, so we stuck together in the bustle of the day.

I walked into the living room, and before me was a dazzling sight. I could see into the dining room where the table stretched out as big as it could go to accommodate all seven of us. In the middle was a big cornucopia filled with all colors and sizes of gourds. The table was already laid out with a full complement of silverware at each place, along with fancy napkins. Even the water goblets my Grandmother rarely took out of the China cabinet were carefully stationed at each place. Equally elegant was the tempting small china baskets filled with candy that sat at on each person’s plate. I saw my place as it had a taller chair so I could reach the table. My eyes could not stop going back to that candy basket. For a five-year-old, it was mighty tempting. Couldn’t I just steal one piece of candy? My hand was wandering in that direction when the wrath of my Grandmother descended on me.

“No candy before we eat, or I will take away all of your candy.” She scolded sternly. As a sensitive child, I was humiliated and fled the dining room.

As the day progressed, more delights appeared on the table: many varieties of pickles – including my Grandmother’s watermelon pickles, green olives; black olives – which were so much fun to place on the tips of your fingers before eating; pickles; celery and carrots. The temptation to steal a morsel grew as did my hunger. In the hub-bub, I saw my sisters snitch an olive or two, so I did too. I was the unfortunate one to get caught and was told to “Stay out of the way and away from the table!” Easier said than done.

It is a fact that ‘stay out of the way’ for a hungry five-year-old who faced such a spread was a difficult mission indeed –especially when the smells emanating from the kitchen made my mouth water continually. After being scolded a third and fourth time, I was not only hungry but near tears too.  My Grandfather came to my rescue. He sat in his rocking chair, put me in his lap, and comforted me. “We shall ‘Stay out of the way’ together.” He whispered.

His rocking chair was situated in a secluded nook by the stairs and yet had a view of the path that led to and from the kitchen. As he rocked me, it soothed my hurt feelings and nearly put me to sleep.

At last, the words we all were waiting for came – “Dinner is served!”  Grandpa situated me in the highest chair as everyone gathered. The candles lit, and the huge golden turkey was brought in like a trophy for a winning team. My dad said a long prayer of thanks. At “Amen,” we knew the feast would start.  And what a feast it was! Mother filled my plate with little bits of everything – turkey – white and dark meat, mashed potatoes with yummy gravy, vegetables of all types, and my favorites watermelon pickles and black olives. All washed down with a big glass of cold milk. I was not a picky eater at all. Everything seemed wonderful to me! I ate until I was bursting. By consensus, the family agreed that dessert would be put off for a while.

Grandpa and I withdrew to his rocking chair and soon were snoozing as my mom, and older sisters helped to clean the table and wash the dishes. Later in the afternoon, we had the pies – my mother’s pumpkin pie piled high with whipped cream, and my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. (Which to this very day I have never tasted anything as good as that lemon meringue pie!)

Despite my hurt feelings and natural, childlike resentment of ‘staying out of the way,’ the day was to be remembered as one of my favorite holidays at my Grandparents’ house.

Cloud Illusions – Searching for Baby

clouds 2

If you have been reading along on this blog, you are aware I lost my sweet Belle, my Poodle/Bishon Frise mix in July. For the last six weeks or so, I have been looking for another dog to fill my heart again. My house hasn’t been the same since Belle joined her sisters in Doggie Heaven. Every day I would pull up website after website – looking for a small dog that would fit my lifestyle – basically sluggish. As I am limited in my ability to walk a dog, I would need a dog that wouldn’t mind her exercise to be chasing a toy in my moderate-sized walled-in backyard. I was hoping to find a dog that was potty trained and knew how to use doggie pee pads too. A puppy’s energy would be too much for me to handle.

KennelSeveral times a week, I would visit my local shelters. There were plenty of big dogs; Pitbulls, German shepherds, and hounds, but a dearth of small dogs. Don’t get me wrong I would have loved to have taken any one of those dogs home, but I knew I couldn’t give them the home they needed. When I would see a small dog that might be appropriate, they had already been adopted and were waiting to go to their fur-ever homes. I was getting frustrated.

 

Every day I went without a dog, I grew more upset. I would look at the spot where Belle’s bed had been and be nearly in tears wanting so much to have another sweet dog fill that spot. I eventually realized I had little control over this situation, and therefore in my prayers, I gave the outcome over to God – trusting that it would all unfold as it should.

Then near midnight on Sunday, October 27th, I was looking at the Orange County Animal Services website and saw three possible dogs that were available; two Shih Tzus – one tan/white and the other gray/white; and an eleven-year-old white poodle with apricot markings. Three dogs that might fit my needs! Still, I felt a bit anxious when I set out the next day to see these dogs. Could one of these dogs really be the dog for me?

When I arrived, I quickly set off for the small dog area of the kennels. I saw three people Four types of dogs in cage illustrationsurrounding one kennel. There they were – all three in one kennel! A young man was asking about the gray and white dog. I read on the kennel card that the tan and white dog was already adopted. That left the poodle. She was sweet looking and very friendly. But an eleven-year-old dog! My first thoughts were what kind of medical problems would she have?  Putting my reservations aside, I asked to have a meet-and-greet in the play yard with her.

I followed the volunteer that put the leash on her out to a fenced-in area of artificial grass. I found out the little poodle’s name was Winnie. I called her by name, but she seemed uninterested – not that she was uninterested in me or in any way shy. There were some very good things I noticed about her. She didn’t mind other dogs, whether they were bigger or smaller than she was. She let me pick her up and was fine sitting and cuddling beside me on the bench. She liked to play fetch – not excessively – but that might have been because it was super hot out there. I was still on the fence about adopting her. What was holding me back?

The second volunteer sat next to me, and she was trying hard to sell me on her. That’s when I looked up above the roof of the shelter. The volunteer’s voice floated away. There in the sky was a single cloud formation that looked exactly like the poodle before me. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it and pointed it out to the volunteer. She, too, was amazed at the poodle cloud. She told me it was a sign – like I had to be convinced! The dog was mine to have for sure.

Since Winnie never responded to that name, I tried a bunch of fancy poodle names; Fifi, Princess, Gigi, Dutchess – she didn’t respond to any of them. Was she deaf? No, she did respond to loud noises but not powerfully – perhaps she was just hard of hearing. After all, she was eleven. In frustration, I said, “What am I going to call you, baby?” And wouldn’t you know? Her little docked tail wagged, and she looked at me. So from that point on, I have called her Baby.

There is no doubt that Baby has become my best friend. She so easily transitioned into my life – it’s like we had been waiting for each other. I guess the moral of this story is things will work out and take care of themselves if you have faith and are open to all possibilities.

MY BABY

Baby groomed

Comments are welcome!

NaNoWriMo or No NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo banner.jpg

Always at this time of the year, I have the same fight with myself – do I want to do NaNoWriMo or not?  Do I have a story idea that I think I could stretch out to 50,000 words? NaNoWriMo puts so much pressure on you as a writer. But then again, I seem to do better writing when I am under pressure. The other problem with NaNoWriMo is that it drains you as a writer – emotionally and physically. Can I stand up to that? In the last few years I have tried it, I got halfway through the November and had to quit because I just couldn’t stick with it, plus I wasn’t in love with the story I was writing. I guess that’s the problem with NaNoWriMo; you have to love the story to keep going.

I’ve written at least two complete manuscripts this way and several partial ones, but have only committed one to be self-published and that story I loved. It was easy to write and flowed like a river out of me. That was The Peacock’s Tale. I thought all writing would be that way. Surprise! It hasn’t been. It’s hard to write a complete novel. It’s hard to be committed to putting down word after word that makes sense.

I want to give it a try one more time. If I don’t make it through, well.  I’ll try again next year, I guess! What about you? Are you going to give it a try?

Comments are welcome!

Don’t Fight The Stretch!

Back pain

During this last month, my back began to hurt, and being a retired Physical Therapist, and I knew the stretches that would help to alleviate the pain. As I began to stretch, I could feel my body start to defend itself from the initial pain. Slow down! I commanded my body, but even then, I could feel myself tense up not only in my back but my entire body. Don’t fight the stretch! Relax! Gradually my body obeyed my commands. I could feel the stretch allowing my muscles to lengthen and ease the pain that had been crippling only minutes before. After a simple fifteen minutes of stretching I felt much better.

Later, when I sat down to work on a short story. I wrestled with how I could bring this idea to fruition on my blank computer screen. I wanted to tell the story uniquely, but my mind kept fighting the ideas that I imagined. Then the commands I had given myself earlier rang in my brain. Slow down. Don’t fight the stretch. Relax.

lightbulbs floatingI closed my eyes and let my mind float the ideas surrounding the story. I let my mind wander and speculate possible ways to approach the story. Slowly the story’s structure came to me, and when my fingers hit the keyboard, the words just flew onto the document. I was on my way!

So that’s my advice to you – Don’t fight the stretch! Relax, and let your mind carry you through the process of developing your ideas.

Comments are welcome!

A Writing Prompt for You

Thinking

I thought I would give you a challenge in the form of a prompt. It’s always fun to write from a prompt. When thinking about possible ways to write the story, I try not to take the obvious route. Instead, I will take a unique or unusual way of approaching the story.

Stories written with a moral can be a real challenge. A moral is a lesson for a story. It is a type of message that teaches a reader a life lesson, such as what is right or wrong, how to make decisions, or how to treat other people. Many children’s stories have a moral. Examples of these are “The Tortoise and the Hare” or “The Princess and the Pea,” but they are not exclusively limited to fables or fairy tales. An excellent example of a universal story with a moral is “The Gift of the Magi” by O’Henry. This classic story has a moral lesson about gift-giving. It is a compelling story as many stories with a moral turn out to be.

Your challenge today is to write a story in which the moral is “A bird in the hand is better than two in a bush.”

I would love to hear from you as to how you approach this challenge! Comments are welcome.

Happy Labor Day! The End of the Summer

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Labor Day is here again, and per usual, so is the threat of a hurricane. Honestly, I can’t remember a Labor Day weekend that we didn’t either have a hurricane or have the threat of one.  It would be so nice to have friends come over and watch the US Open Tennis Tournament and have a cookout or something, but no – instead I am moving furniture off the patio and front porch and “hunkering down.”  Sigh.

Labor Day, although not officially the end of summer, always seemed to me to be the end of the warm lazy fun days of summer. School always started right after Labor day in my northern hometown. I knew the cold days of winter was coming even though there still were many lovely days ahead before the cold winds blew. Nevertheless, I wanted the cold days over with so the warm days would return. Here’s a poem that reflects that sentiment.

 

The Last Days of Summer

The end has come

To lazy summer days.

No more beach visits in the sun,

No more swimming holidays.

~

Oh, the hot days of summer will soon end.

 Shortly, the leaves will turn.

The long sunny days shorten towards years end.

Fall’s winds blow without concern.

~

I will stoically endure the shortened days –

The wind, the cold and snow,

But in my mind,

I’ll be on the beach getting a suntan glow.

~

Why do I endure the seasons change?

Why not move some place tropical?

A year-long summer I could arrange,

If I just moved to Florida.

And so I did …  Comments welcome!

Here’s the story: The 2019 First Place Winner in the International Literary Competition – Short Story

So many of you have asked to read the winning story I wrote. I hope you enjoy it!

Marie

My Queen of Hearts

By Marie Staight

After a year and a half of waiting, this was the day. I could feel my heart beat a little faster as I walked toward the building.  I was going to meet Julie’s family. I would finally meet the people that made her, influenced her, and were closest to her. My excitement grew as I approached the headquarters of her famous business. I felt a little lightheaded and could hear my heart beating in my ears. I could hardly believe that this successful, dear lady was now a vital part of my life.

Of course, I knew that Julie was an ambitious woman. A woman that was a little bit flirtatious and used that to her advantage in her dealings with those she came across in her successful dog food business.

Just out of high school, she had married Jacob, her high school sweetheart, and they had two children which she adored.  Although she nurtured her children with devotion, being a homemaker did not satisfy Julie’s ambition. Jacob had trouble understanding her need for other pursuits, so it was not surprising to her family when they divorced.

When Julie realized she needed a way to provide for her children. She turned to her love of providing food to her family and pursued being a baker. Friends tell me that her strong business sense and ability to manage a staff then led her to pursue a career as a chef. At thirty-two she became interested in providing a nutritious diet for her five dogs. As was typical of Julie’s reputation, she threw herself into making her dog food business grow and prosper. Before she was thirty-nine, she was a millionaire. Known in her business for her leadership and communication skills, she had great business sense and stood out above the crowd.

I took three deep breaths to calm myself before pushing through the revolving door. My heartbeat steadied. I walked up to the desk and told them my name. The lady sitting at the desk smiled broadly and introduced herself as Elaine Beacon, the CEO of the company. She stood up and extended her hand. I shook it, and oddly, I felt my heart miss a beat.

“So nice to meet you, sir.” She said. “Follow me; everyone is waiting to meet you in the conference room.”

“Will her children be there?” I asked. For some reason, that I could not put my finger on, I was most nervous about meeting them.

We had reached the elevators so as we waited there; she gave me a patronizing smile. “Yes, they especially made the trip from their boarding school to meet you.”

I fidgeted as we waited. My eyes were glued on the reversing numbers as the elevator descended.  Nervously, I began gnawing on my lip. When I saw Elaine looking at me, I managed a half-smile.

“Don’t be nervous. Everyone has been dying to meet you from the moment …” Elaine blushed deeply and tried to correct her guffaw. “Ahhh, I mean, um, I… I…”

Seeing her discomfort, I said, “It’s alright, I understand what you mean.”

Thankfully the elevator doors opened, and a flock of people exited. Elaine and I entered, as did several others. As we ascended to the fourteenth floor, we did not speak, and I realized it was Juice Newton’s voice that was crooning Queen of Hearts in the piped-in music. How appropriate, I thought.

I felt odd when those elevator doors opened. The scene before me – a place I had never been before – was strangely familiar. I knew we were going to the left even before Elaine turned that direction. For the first time, a relaxed smile broke out on my face. It’s going to be fine; I heard a quiet female voice whisper in my head. I almost galloped in front of Elaine to the third office down the hallway. As I entered the room, I could hear my heartbeat thumping in my ears.

The gathered crowd of about ten people turned in unison and immediately quieted when they realized I was there. Elaine cleared her throat and said, “I brought you, Mr. Joseph Curr.”

“P … Please, call me Joe.” I stuttered nervously.

A tall, slender older woman broke from the group. She had a rapturous look on her face. She opened her arms and asked, “May I hug you, Joe?”

“Of course,” I replied as we came together and hugged as if our life depended on it. It felt wonderful. Flashes of people and places zipped through my mind so rapidly that I could not identify them. The lady placed her ear against my chest. I could almost feel my heart reach out to her. Unexpectantly, she began to cry quietly, but she would not let go of me. Soon we were joined by two teenage girls. They also clung to me. I have no idea how long we remained in that position.

Finally, a rather portly man came over and began to pry the woman and girls from me saying, “Let’s give Mr. Curr some space, girls.” He held out his hand. “Mr. Curr, er … I mean Joe, “I’m Jacob, the girl’s father.”

My legs began to shake, and I felt dizzy again as they withdrew from me. I grabbed a chair and sat down. I put my head down between my knees until my head cleared. I slowly looked up. “I’m so sorry. It’s just so overwhelming.”

“Oh dear, can we get you something? A glass of water?” The older lady asked, “I should be the one apologizing. I set upon you like an eager lioness to a feast!”

I laughed and waved a hand to indicate I was alright. Then we all laughed, and the tension in the room lifted.

She pointed to herself. “I’m Julie’s mother, Ann. This,” she said, taking the girls by each hand and holding them up in turn, “ is JulieAnn and Wendy…”

“Julie’s daughters. Yes, I see the resemblance,” I finished for her. She nodded.

What followed was a massive introduction of all of Julie’s family and friends. Smiles, and hugs, and handshakes abounded. I realized I hadn’t felt this good for a very long time. It felt like I was whole – a feeling that I had not had since before my last surgery.

We sat at the table, and I asked them many questions. The family presented to me a scrapbook full of pictures with little stories that highlighted Julie’s life story. I found it comforting. All the time as we went through the pictures, I was aware again of the rhythmical beating of my heart.

When I finally had my wits about me, I asked to speak. The room quieted again. “It’s so wonderful to meet you all. I cannot express to you the thankfulness I have every day for Julie’s heart, but I know for me to live, she had to die. Seeing all of you makes me realize even more deeply what a sacrifice this was for you. I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart… or should I say from Julie’s heart? Julie is – and always will be my Queen of Hearts.”