Monday, December 08, 2014

Remembering One Friendship

This time of the year I receive a call from my friend G who lives in Texas. The other day I thought, "I'll surprise G with a call from here." Then I remembered: G died from cancer in the summer. I knew I should make the call to check on her husband, B.  Their daughter answered to say that her dad had died a month after her mother of an aneurism. Gone, two special people.

I'd met G during classes in 1959 at Mexico City College in Mexico, D. F. There was a six-weeks session given in Spanish. She and I shared one grammar class and  ate together for lunch. This was the only time we could speak English. She'd tell of living with a Mexican family and I'd share my living experience in a motel-like setting with a huge dog who only understood Spanish.

At the time she was a college student and I was married and expecting my first child. The ages didn't seem to matter. We shared the fun of learning.

When we separated we stayed in touch via letters: her graduation, her marriage, her children. Then emailing developed and we kept in touch more easily. We both  continued to learn. We  planned to have a reunion 25 years later at Mexico City College, which had changed its name and moved south of Mexico City. I couldn't spare the six weeks, a disappointment for me. She went alone and kept me up-to-date on her experience.

I saw her after that reunion-that-didn't happen, when our family traveled to Dallas on our way west for vacation; she in turn with her husband visited us years later on their way home from a conference.  Then it was back to emails.

Her last contact with me was by telephone: "Vivian, I'm calling to let you know I'm dying. I don't have long to live. I want you to know how much I've appreciated your friendship."  I found few words to reply, but I did with, "Are you OK with this situation?" She said she was surprised that she was. She worried about her husband who wasn't well.

She entered hospice and died a month later. Her husband called and that was the last time I heard his voice.

Dying is difficult on those who remain alive.  I miss my dear friend.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Autumn Photos


One of my Facebook friends lives in Maine. She often posts landscape photos to emphasize what all her friends and relatives are missing. I admit the windows looking onto the front of our house peer at a quiet street and a wooded lot across the street.  In the fall there is no exciting display of color from the tree leaves, only curled up, fallen leaves. Even the tree branches cast a wicked look on dreary days.  Here's one announcing fall:



Compare it with scenes of the season we spent in the Delaware area of New York.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lying Down on the Job

We don't often have to buy necessities that have a 10-20 year warranty. Refrigerator, check; freezer, check; washing machine, check; dryer; microwave, check.  Mattress??

Husband decided we needed a new mattress. The last one we bought was hardly five years old. When R decides to change a necessity he goes forward with such enthusiasm, it fizzles within 24 hours.

He spends hours perusing a model, checking his copy of Consumer Digest, musing about the size, the ability to perform.  And that goes for mattresses, also.

Everyone last Saturday who were shopping in the mattress department at a local store were serious enough to spend a lot of time lying down. One lady we met scrunched on a king-sizer, said she had been in the store every weekend lying on this and that mattress. She was determined to make a decision that afternoon. Every time we looked around she was splayed on another mattress. She had fibromyralgia, and it was important to her to get the right "feel" for her muscles. She was so educated on the type we were interested in, her testimony was as good as any salesman. This type was the all foam modeled after those developed by NASA.

Then R lay down on the first mattress guided by the sales clerk. He lay this way and that way, on his stomach, on his back. I lay down on my back and declared, "Not for me!" I was giving him the prerogative to choose which softness or firmness was best. I figured I could adjust with a board under my side. After several hours and the impending store closure, we left without a decision.

As I waited for R to decide, I glanced around the mattress area to fill my time. Sure enough, there were many couples and families lying around. I thought I'd snap their pictures and put a few on this blog. You'll notice how they choose to lie.

This is the lady who spent weeks resting on this mattress to be sure her money and body would benefit her choice.


This couple spent only awhile resting without coming to a decision



Saturday, September 06, 2014

Birthdays Come and Go Without Fanfare

You don't see many photographs in the newspaper these days of the celebration of a birthday, unless the celebrated one is 100 years old. We can't imagine ourselves getting to that point in life where someone else takes care of us and all we do is sit and watch TV. Too weak and weary. Enjoying fewer interests. Sitting and sleeping.

I have reminded my dentist, doctor, and opthlamologist that I plan to live to be 140 years old. They will have to resist retiring because I don't want new doctors at my age. I turned over the birthday leaves 82 times now. Do I want to be weak and weary, enjoying few interests, sit and watch TV all day? Absolutely not. I have chosen 140 as a far-reaching goal in which to keep myself healthy, learning, participating, and keeping in touch with my friends.  I refuse to say "I'm ready for the Lord to take me."

My birthdays are spent being remembered by a few close friends who continue to send cards I cherish and my children finding something hand-made or a book to read.  I now own a lovely hand-made frame holding a relaxed family in our front yard.  No perfume, no night out on the town, no elaborate gifts of any sort.

Because I was reared in a frugal  household, Mother always saw my sister and I had a new dress, or shoes, or socks. We didn't ask for expensive items. However, Mother's job as backstage manager for Merrill, Lynch Stockbrokers allowed her to earn a good salary when we were teens, She gave us small gifts we called "happies." When the Disney movie was shown in the theaters, one of the songs had a line, "We wish you a very happy unbirthday, to you, to you". And we began to call those happies, our unbirthday gifts.

I don't want to be 110 before I pass on. I won't be able to accomplish what I'm doing now. I'll find some reason to sit in a comfy chair and read or watch a movie on some new-fangled electronics, which I will try to understand the mechanics. No one will call me because I'll be so deaf I'll have to have a chalk board hanging around my neck for communication. I won't be able to eat out with friends because I'll be drinking only Ensure. The kids won't be able to stay around me long.

I've painted a dark side of my later life. There will be no dark side. I have too many friends and sweet-loving kids to help me avoid being nothing but bright.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

End of Summer Thoughts

I wasted, so I thought, the summer with little advancement in my writing. For years I've had stored in the computer two creative nonfiction stories written multiple times, attempting to find the best lede. Opening the story with an illustrious picture of words seemed to escape me.  During the early summer I read of a contest in Alabama. Figuring few readers or judges had ever heard of the topic of my CNF, I took one more look at the first paragraph of one story and decided this was the last time I would rewrite it. Sitting only a few minutes I remembered  the words of Rick Bragg  a few years ago .  "Make your opening so your reader wants to keep reading." Of course, many other writers have said the same thing, but I've not heard their words.

Typing as fast as I could with the words jumping around in my head I got the opening lines finished. Printed the 1500 word story and mailed in a recollection of my six-month stay at a state preventorium. What is a preventorium? A place like an orphanage or a boarding school especially for children who may or may not have TB.  I was sooooo skinny with little appetite, always a sickly brat, the utlimate place, my parents thought, was a stay with other kids who needed special attention. I returned home six months later before my eighth birthday. No one in the family talked about my time there and I pushed the experience into the recesses of my mind.  Only after I was married did I reveal what I thought was a terrible experience.

However, to view the time spent there with my today's mind, I realize I had a little paradise. I couldn't appreciate it because I wanted to be home with my parents and new sister. Eight years ago I began to write what I remembered. Then a  FaceBook site appeared  and I read about other little patients and how they coped with the loneliness.  The height of this early summer was to be reunited with some of these patients. They are grown men and women who felt as I had,  the necessity of keeping the "P" a secret. By exchanging memories I realized how different my recollection was from theirs. I was at the preventorium in 1940; they arrived anywhere from 1950-1960.  We cruised the grounds, saw some similarities of the now buildings to the then ones.Thoughts came tumbling.



My entry into the contest didn't include a lot of what I learned about others' memories, but I received the support I needed to let the public, however large or small it be, know there had been a place in central Mississippi, as well as many around the United States helping kids..

A creative nonfiction is taking facts and surrounding them with your story.  I explained how TB was detected in 1940, the purpose of the sanitorium for adults and the preventorium for children, the daily routine developed for us kids, and the attention the workers gave to us. We lived on a large campus and were supplied with all we needed.

My story entitled, "A Secret Place" will be published in the Alabama Writers Conclave emagazine AlaLit sometime next year.  I'm proud not only of winning first place (a certificate and $100) but of having the opportunity to get the story in print so others can learn of the scourge of tuberculosis and how the state played a part in stamping out the disease.

Oddly, I read online the information from the Mississippi Department of Health that not a single child living in the Preventorium were ever found to have tuberculosis.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Brief Moment from Writing

As most writers know, there is a lull in writing when nothing comes from the brain to the fingers. Some call it "writer's block." I call it, "being tired".  I had about lost the incentive to stick with my family story writing for posterity. Posterity in my family means a "possible look into that green book Mother left for us." Most writers, as most parents know, when children become adults they aren't the least interested in what you're doing. You can say, "Look at this picture I painted." They'll glance and say, "Uh huh." When I tell them I'm collecting stories about my life I hear, "Uh, huh."

I've spent the last few months collecting facts and stories about the Newkirk clan, the ancestors of my husband. A tough job that began as a Christmas gift to my three adult children.  One morning reading through my mail, I spied a writing contest to be held by the Alabama Writers Conclave and I entered the creative nonfiction section. Creative nonfiction is the act of building a story around facts. I had been writing  two stories many times over (the editing process) working to get the words just right. Finally, I felt I was ready for story #1 to go to the contest.  It is about the creation of the Preventorium for children located at Magee MS in the 1930s and 1940s(closed in early 1960) I was a patient there because I was undernourished. Looking at old pictures we kids all had the same knotty knees and skinny frames. None of us had TB, as adult patients had at the Sanatorium located nearby. It is an interesting story, one I didn't mention for many years. Still today, few people I mention the story to have ever known the excellent job the Mississippi State Health Dept did for us kids.The story will appear later in the emagazine ,AlaLit, magazine of the Writers Conclave.

When I received notice I had won one of four prizes in my category, I told my family ( who for once sat up at attention and stayed alert until Sat night the 12 of July.) The family told me to text what place as soon as I could.  I did manage to their delight.

The announcement surprised me and gave me hope that I could keep plugging away.  When my name was called I halfway raised from my seat (I was on the front row with other winners) and raised my arms as if to say "Praise the Lord!" I won $100. I've been writing for 20 years. However, I've had other stories published in the Quarterly of the Gulf Coast Writers group.

I have been collecting family stories of my relatives and ancestors. What a job. I have a list of projects to complete before dying, and I wonder if I can make it through the points.

In the last week I've reworked a short story to enter and another creative nonfiction I hope will make it to the Honorable Mention. I only know how to write true stories, so the fiction may be a bit silly.

I apologize to my few readers for my absence.  Below you see my sister and I celebrating after the win.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Traditions I Ignore

Two traditions I dislike attending: funerals and marriages.  They are cookie-cutter ceremonies. The worst part of funerals is listening to a minister who probably has more attendees standing in the hot sun or hovering together to keep warm or huddling under the tent or personal umbrellas. No matter the raw circumstances the attendees face, the minister sees the group, and decides to preach the sermon of his life. Not only has he already said enough inside the church or home, but also he feels he has to continue under the tent as we look at a box hovering above an abyss.

How can one be sympathetic/empathetic for the family of a lost one when tradition overshadows the life of the deceased? If you think about the whole situation, more emphasis is given to a few remarks given by friends and family (some truly informative and funny) a few sad hymns, and then marching out of the sanctuary, getting into your car and forming a line to the cemetery. The bill for the casket and funeral that comes later in the mail takes the family's breath away. Or a quickly written check that could feed a few homeless men is given with smiles.

Or, if there are cremains or a closed casket, guests are ushered into a community room to feast on something simple like coffee or punch and a brownie. Someone later remarks on the frugality of such simple fare. If the group is large, you walk into a room filled with six or more tables laden with food that easily will feed more than the thousands Jesus did when he broke a loaf of bread.

And feast the attendees do. You'd think they skipped a meal and planned to save buying lunch or dinner.They load their small plates overflowing. Try eating from a small paper plate lying in one hand, drinking punch or wine with the other that also holds a fork or a large chip and you're bound to have a few disasters. These attendees go home talking about the variety of food -- the deceased is given a "poor soul" remark on the way home.

Marriage ceremonies are similar. Why does nearly every woman want the "dress of her dreams" that cost Daddy a bundle, plus all the ornamentation that goes with the ceremony and the entertainment and food that a family feels it must display for the attendees to prove their financial status.

You know families like this. Have a funeral or a wedding the way others have in order to "keep up with the Joneses" or to prove something deeper. I admire the couple you read about in the paper who had a simple wedding whose family and friends know the couple is as married as another couple who left the country club an hour before. I understand  personal weddings and funerals are being introduced these days. Hurrah!

I'm sick of the television series "Say Yes to the Dress". To pay thousands of dollars for the "perfect" dress worn once  that  previously the act of choosing caused tears and anger among family members who supposedly were to support the bride-to-be, then the bride has to choose all the ornaments and food and china and crystal and flowers, etc. Marriage takes four people and a minister.
         
Then there is the process of burying a loved one in the finest mahogany casket lined in satin that sets the families back thousands of dollars they may have to take out a bank loan to repay--all the time knowing that time under dirt will disintegrate the box and its contents. How this reveals a lack of sense, a refusal to think outside the box in order to avoid ridicule and stress figuring which casket will honor a dead person who doesn't care one flip what he's put away in. Or the choice was made by the funeral home who pressured the family to "remember your loved one in the finest way."

Rarely do I attend a funeral and if I am hungry I'll attend a wedding. Otherwise, I'll stay at home and write a proper note.