Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When Any Day Could Be Halloween

Subtitle:  This one's for you, Judy.

See these two neatly dressed girls standing on the front porch of their home? See their pretty hair, the result of bobby-pinned curls made by the patient hands of their mother? See the innocent smiles on their faces?

Now picture the two girls in an upstairs bedroom of the same house. They sit cross-legged on the wooden floor, their shoulders hunched, heads close together. They aren't smiling now.

Between them on the floor is a small brown suitcase with a wide beige stripe on top of it. The older girl opens the suitcase and exposes the record player inside. She places a 78-rpm record on the turntable, lifts the mechanical arm, and carefully sets the needle down on the outer edge the record. Both girls lean back slightly and wait, their eyes bright with anticipation.

"Who's that coming down the street?
Are they shovels or are they feet?
It's the new schoolmaster.
What's his name?
Ichabod, Ichabod Crane." 

The girls were my sister and I, and that record I loved so much was the soundtrack of a 1949 Disney animated film based on Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. It was the story of Ichabod Crane, a skinny, timid but charming schoolteacher, the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel whom Ichabod loved, and the big, brutish Brom Bones, Ichabod's rival for Katrina's affections. At the heart of the story was a frightening Halloween legend. My favorite part of the record--the part that never failed to send a delicious chill down my spine--was Ichabod's fateful encounter with that legend's dreaded Headless Horseman.

This morning I found a YouTube video clip from that Disney film. The legend is explained in the first three and a half minutes of the clip, but if you want to go right to the scary part, start listening at the 3:40 mark.

I use the word "listening" deliberately. You can watch the clip if you choose--the animation is colorful and entertaining--but I would challenge you to close your eyes and just listen. Travel to the 1950s and huddle in that bedroom with my little sister and me. Do as we did: listen and let your imagination create the images as Ichabod tries to flee the Headless Horseman. To a child's mind it's the best kind of scary.

Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls!


Thanks to Sherry Cherry for posting this video on YouTube.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

In my next life . . .

. . . I hope to be born as my granddaughter's child. She has a way of making every day an adventure for her son, and he thrives because of it. I'm sure he has no idea that every child isn't lucky enough to be born into a world so rich in imagination and opportunity.

Yesterday my granddaughter and her husband hosted a family-style Halloween party, and I was blown away by the festive atmosphere: the Halloween-themed food, the decorations, the activities she had planned for the children. Of course, the kiddies themselves were the best part of the event. They threw their little costumed selves into the spirit of Halloween without reservation. Running a close second to the kids were the costumed adults. It's wonderful to be part of a family in which responsible, hard-working, level-headed grown-ups are occasionally willing to throw seriousness aside and get in touch with their sillier sides.

Here we have Betty, Bam-Bam and Barney Rubble.
(Their best friends, who have a baby girl, came
dressed as Fred, Wilma and Pebbles Flintstone.)

Zombie Cop and Lady Pirate
(Zombie Cop explained that the "C.O.P."
on the party-store badge stood for
"corpse on patrol.")

"NO! I'm NOT Bam-Bam! I'm OWEN!"

Baby Monkey, Monkey's grandfather, Banana Tree, and Top Banana

After I dressed in my homemade costume, I was a little concerned that it might be too scary for the smaller children, but I needn't have worried. My granddaughter took one look at me and said, "Look, Owen! Grammy is dressed as the Itsy-Bitsy Spider."

On a side note, the only person at the party who was older than I am said, when she recognized me, "You look just like an old lady!" Ahem. I am an old lady. But I was wearing a disguise. I was supposed to look like an old black-widow spider.

This is Thai, dressed as a skeleton. Or else it's a skeleton, dressed as a pug.
I'm really not sure.

Owen's decorated playhouse was a big attraction before,
during, and after the organized games. (Using the term
"organized" loosely here; kids will be kids.)

All lined up and ready for a sack race.

The sack races were winding down as we said our goodbyes. We rounded the corner beside the workshop and met a small group of sack racers coming toward us. Owen was at the end of the pack. He was no longer wearing a sack, but he hopped anyway, lagging behind and smiling widely in the joy of the experience.

As I wrote above, it would be great to be my granddaughter's kid.

What I've Been Reading

Home Safe
by Elizabeth Berg
A pleasant enough way to spend a few hours.

True to Form
by Elizabeth Berg
I loved this book! Its many cultural references to the days of my own youth helped me identify to its protagonist, Katie, and Katie's story reminded me that, even in simpler times, life could get complicated.

Red Bones
by Ann Cleeves
My one-word opinion:  tedious.

The Bodies Left Behind
by Jeffery Deaver
Jeffery Deaver is one of my favorite story-tellers, and in this book I enjoyed the thrill of attempting to escape from killers. On foot. Through dark and scary woods.

The Litigators
by John Grisham
This book is a fun read and would probably be even more fun as a movie. I hope it becomes one.

To read a description or reviews of any of these books,
click on its image above.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

At number one this week is . . .

By the time Saturday rolls around I've usually thought of a story to tell you and scouted out a music video that somehow ties in with the story. This morning, however, I came up empty-handed. Or empty-headed.

I decided to look through my iTunes playlists to see if maybe a song title would remind me of a story I hadn't shared with you, but it's early still, and my brain tends to stay in sleep mode until my body has been up and around for a couple hours. With no song popping out at me, it occurred to me to re-sort the list and see which tune I've played the most.

The top of the list surprised me. If you'd asked me to quickly name my favorite songs, I wouldn't have thought of this one. It's usually a song's lyrics that make it special to me, and this particular tune is an instrumental. If you'd asked specifically about instrumentals, though, I would have named this one for sure.

This song first blipped on my radar screen when the two talented brothers who wrote it performed it on a TV talent show, and I waited what seems like forever for it to be recorded and available for download. Under the circumstances by which it was chosen for today's post, the name of the song couldn't possibly be more appropriate.

May I present, for your listening pleasure: "Winner."


The song is "Winner" by Nuttin' But Stringz.
Thanks to DjSpardaRS for posting this video on YouTube.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why the Tennis Ball Is in Time-Out

As far as Levi and Gimpy were concerned, I might as well have been watching "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" as last night's vice-presidential debate. Apparently, my dogs are only interested in their future once a day, between four p.m. and whatever  minute near five o'clock I set their supper dishes in front of them. The rest of their waking hours are spent playing some kind of game with the tennis ball.

No TV viewing in this house is unaccompanied by some form of a ball game, so I have been forced to learn to multi-task. These days it's rare if I miss a plot point when I have to grab the broom and use its handle to whack a ball out from under a piece of furniture. If I happen to notice that both dogs are sitting at attention, watching me expectantly, then I know that a sloppy-wet tennis ball has been dropped into my lap or onto the sofa beside me, and I can find it and toss or bounce it into neutral territory without missing any important dialogue. I do admit to using the "pause" button when the ball-retrieval process involves the actual moving of a sofa or other large piece of furniture.

Anyway, I was able to become absorbed in the nuances of last night's debate because Levi and Gimpy were playing a variation of their usual game. In this particular version, Gimpy stuffs the ball so deeply between the sofa cushions that he can't get it out. Most of the time when that happens, Levi jumps up, pushes his snout (a fraction longer than Gimpy's) into the depths of the cushion-cave, and gets the ball. Last night, however, Levi couldn't get it either, and my concentration on the debate was suddenly interrupted by the sounds of frantic digging and the sight of curly, blond hind-ends waving in the air.

I shouted, "Stop it!" and both dogs leaped off the sofa as I got up to get their ball. I swear there was gratitude on their faces until my own expression turned to one of shock and horror and swear words exploded out of my mouth. Right next to where the ball was buried was a hole in my leather sofa. I couldn't believe it had finally happened.

The hole is a little one, a rip no larger than the circumference of a misplaced canine tooth. It's small enough that I'm hopeful it can be repaired, but large enough it'll leave an obvious scar.

Until it's fixed, though, I have to keep the dogs away from it, so there'll be no ball-playing in the living room for now. I know from experience that what I may see as a little hole looks like a source of endless possibilities to a curious dog.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What I've Been Reading

The first book in this batch is one I've passed over at least a dozen times. Then, when my stepsister, Donna, included it in a big bag of books she gave me a couple months ago, I read all but one of the others before finally picking up this one. And don't I feel stupid for that now. I had judged the book by even less than its cover--the title turned me off--and it's a wonderful story. 

Sometimes the truth of a cliché just smacks you in the face.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Midnight on Julia Street
by Ciji Ware

Sorrow Wood
by Raymond I. Atkins

The Art of Mending
by Elizabeth Berg

For a description or reviews of any of these books,
click on its image above.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Aftereffects of Schoolyard Fights on Adolescent Brains

A character in the book I was reading earlier today spoke about a time in her youth when she had stood by, watching, as one girl beat up another one. She regretted that she hadn't had the courage to step in and break up the fight, and then she wondered why no one else had had the courage either. A large group of young people had formed a ring around the two girls to watch the fight. Nobody tried to stop it.

Now, that's horrible, and I would feel noble, perhaps, if I could write a knowledgeable post about group psychology. I could end it with some inspirational thoughts that might stick with a reader and one day inspire him or her to "do the right thing" when confronted with a situation similar to the one described in the book. That would be great.

But that isn't the way my mind works.

When I read that passage, the file retriever in my head raced down the aisle, yanked open a drawer, flipped quickly through a few manila folders, and practically skipped back to me, saying, "Remember this?" I did remember, though I hadn't thought of it in years, and I knew immediately that I wanted to write about it before I forget it again.

It happened about 1959, when I was in high school. Girls wearing full skirts and bobby socks and boys dressed in plaid shirts and jeans mingled in small groups on the lawn in front of the school, laughing, talking, enjoying the East Texas sunshine, waiting for the bell to ring and signal that the lunch break was over.

Suddenly there were shouts: "Fight! Fight!" Just like in the book, a ring of students began to form about three-deep around the two boys who were fighting. The ring actually expanded in diameter a couple of times as the crowd drew back to avoid getting in the way of a flying fist. I was not part of that ring. As chicken then as I am now, I stood back and watched from a safe distance.

Over the ruckus surrounding the fight, I heard a murmur begin, softly at first, then louder as the voices became more urgent: "Forston. FORston. FORSTON!" Mr. Forston was the vice-principal. Unlike the principal, who was usually willing to negotiate, Mr. Forston took no prisoners. I watched as he emerged from the front door and strode purposefully toward the fight.

"Uh-oh," I thought. "Those boys are going to get it."

I saw some of the watchers look over their shoulders as Mr. Forston approached. They knew he was coming, but they didn't move out of the circle, nor did they stop shouting exhortations of "Get him!" or "Hit him again!" Mr. Forston had to force his way into that ring. Only after physically pulling people apart by their shoulders was he able to get between them, and I knew from the determination on his face that there would be hell to pay.

At last he broke through. I could see the top of his head as he entered the center of that ring, then stopped and did a slow, 360-degree turn. It must have been a shock to him to discover that he was in that space all by himself.

You see, those two boys who had been fighting were both more afraid of Mr. Forston than they were angry at each other. As soon as they knew he was getting near, they  simply stopped fighting, stepped back in opposite directions, and disappeared into the ring of students that had encircled them. If this event had had an umpire, that's the moment when he would have yelled, "Safe!"

I suppose I should feel a little embarrassed that reading about an issue serious enough to cause a character to feel regret and emotional distress years after it happened prompted me to tell this particular story. But, hey, humor and quick wits are also important aspects  of the human condition, don't you think?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

What to Do on a Saturday

The choices might seem endless, but it's rather easy to narrow them down. Right off the bat I can rule out any kind of fun activity away from home, because I'm pretty sure that all of the people I might choose to accompany me on any kind of Saturday morning adventure have already immersed themselves in weekend chores and errands or in spending quality time with their significant others.

As for solo activities, there's no place I really need or want to go by myself today. I ran all my errands earlier in the week, so I can cross those off my list. I could go shopping, I suppose, but the only places I enjoy shopping just for the fun of it are bookstores, office supply stores, and craft and hobby shops, all of which feed my addictive hobbies and take a bite out of my budget.

That brings me to the hobbies themselves. I've already spent time browsing the Internet this morning, so, even though I'll probably do it again later, it's an uninteresting prospect at the moment. I always enjoy photo-editing, genealogy research, reading, and working jigsaw puzzles or logic puzzles, but I do those things all the time. They're low-energy activities, and I'm feeling a little peppy today.

I could do housework, of course; the need for that never ends. Running the vacuum cleaner would be an excellent use of my time, but the weather is supposed to cool off late tonight, which means I might open my windows tomorrow. If so, then more dust could blow in, so what's the sense in vacuuming now?

Levi desperately needs a haircut. This would be a good day to do that, but it usually takes me three to four hours, and I have to keep Gimpy in his crate the entire time. Otherwise, he pops up every five minutes and tempts Levi with a tennis ball. I actually kind of enjoy the haircutting experience, but I hate to ruin Levi's day. And Gimpy's.

My own hair could use a trim, too. Maybe I'll get out my barber scissors and cut off an inch of split ends. After that I'll need to shower away all the prickly hair stubs that have fallen on my shoulders. Once I've showered and dressed in clean clothes, I'll be ready to go out and do something fun--that is, if something fun should come to mind between now and then. Being all fresh and clean, I wouldn't want to do anything that would make me break a sweat.

It used to be simple to decide how to spend a Saturday. I loved that first free day after the work week, loved the idea that my time was my own and I was free to do with it whatever I wanted. I'm certainly not complaining, but now that I'm retired, Saturday doesn't seem special anymore. I kind of miss that.


After briefly browsing my iTunes collection for a Saturday Song Selection that fits today's post, I quickly gave up (because that's just the kind of mood I'm in) and went directly to YouTube, where I searched for songs about, well, Saturday. There are quite a few of them. I've never heard this particular one before, but I thought its melody was prettier than any of the other Saturday-themed songs I found. Also, its lyrics are simple and a bit confusing, much like my own thought processes today. A perfect choice.


The song is "Saturday" by Sparklehorse.
Thanks to 893TheCurrent for posting this video on YouTube.
Click here for the lyrics.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Trinkets and Treasures - No. 11

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about my sister's gift to me of
our great-grandmother's bible. I couldn't have been more thrilled than I was to have that precious book, more than a century old, in my home. It didn't take long, though, to realize I was ill-equipped to care for it properly.

When the bible was left out where it could be seen and appreciated, I worried that household dust would harm it. But the bible is large and heavy, so I knew that if I wrapped it up and put it a closet or a drawer, I wouldn't be inclined to take it out and look at it often.

Then I got lucky.

My stepsister's husband is a talented woodworker. Earlier this year he offered to build something for me, and I asked if he could build a box to hold Grandma's bible. He could, he did, and it's more beautiful than I could have imagined.

The bible now rests safely inside its custom-made box on the end of my dresser. I love to run my fingers across the smooth surface of the quilted-cherry box top, and I lift that lid frequently, both to look at the bible and to get a good whiff of the sawdust scent that lingers there.

The newer treasure, like the antique one it holds, is an ever-present reminder of the ties that bind our family across miles and generations. That's pretty special, if you ask me.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Celebrating in Living Color

Today marks the first anniversary of my photo blog, "A One-Pic Pony." By posting a different photo every day for an entire year, I've proved to myself that I'm better than that girl I used to be, the one who started projects but often failed to complete them. Oh, that girl still lives, I'm afraid, but this time the old woman who inhabits the rest of my body has prevailed.

My interest in photography came late in life, when I was already 64 years old, and I never would have imagined that it would turn into such a passion. My love of taking pictures was born with the purchase of my first digital camera (the one I still use), which gave me the freedom to screw up as many shots as necessary in order to get one good one. That was six years ago, and I still take pictures almost every day.

How I envy today's young moms who have digital cameras and cell-phone cameras at the ready to capture photos of their children. Sometimes we owned a camera when my girls were young, and sometimes we didn't. Even when we had one, we used it sparingly, because the cost of photo-processing wasn't always in our budget. I cherish the snapshots I do have of my children, but there were so many other priceless images of them that linger only in my head.

I can still see a tiny girl bathing in the kitchen sink as sunlight flows through the window behind her and frames her silhouette in golden light. I see the profile of another small girl, her short blonde hair falling in soft curls around her face. Dressed in bright, primary colors, she squats close to the ground and gently extends one chubby hand to touch a puppy's nose. I wish I'd had a digital camera to capture those images.

I do know I'm not nearly ready to give up on the photo blog, even if there are days when no one sees it but me. The process of selecting, editing, and posting a daily photo is a joyful experience, and I've become addicted to that little rush of pleasure. I shoot up--and down and all around--in living color, and it's a habit I can live with.

Monday, October 01, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Clearly, I've been doing more reading than writing lately. Here's the most recent batch of books that ate up all my spare time: 

Joppa: A Story of Love by Peggy Poe Stern

Served Cold: Mountain Justice by Peggy Poe Stern

The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic by Kathleen Valentine

The Way Back Home by Barbara Freethy

Ask Mariah by Barbara Freethy

Some Kind of Wonderful by Barbara Freethy

For a description and reviews of any of these books,
click on its image above.

The books in this particular group are what I like to call "brain candy." They're light, and  they won't stick to your ribs, but they're tasty enough to make you want to sit there and snack on them until they're all gone. (If you've ever had an unexplained craving for marshmallow Peeps, you know exactly what I mean.)