Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Preparing for the Inevitable

Life writing class has officially ended until February. I will miss those weekly get-togethers with strong, good-humored, thinking women. Our last assignment, just in time for Halloween, was to write our own obituaries. Wait...if you think you've already read this, you haven't; we did the same assignment last October, and I wrote about it then. There were a couple of new people in class this session, so the newbies wrote their obituaries for the first time, and the rest of us gussied up our old ones.

I rather liked the hippy-dippy "child of the universe" obit I'd done previously, so I didn't change too much about it. I did reduce my guesstimated age at death from 90 to 86, having read an actuarial table earlier in the week. But who knows? I may kill myself any day now if the phone doesn't stop ringing with political robocalls.

Anyway, in the spirit of the assignment, I wrote about somebody else's funeral that was the kind of informal send-off I want for myself, and I also wrote this little piece:

Notice of Death
(to be published in the event of my untimely demise
if I have correctly predicted the cause of it)

Linda (Last Name) died today.
She fell and hit her head, they say,
Tripped on Lucy, underfoot,
Alive one minute, then kaput!


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Flower Girl and Ring Bearer

Photo by Michelle Gomez

Last night my great-grandbabies posed for a moment before they walked down the aisle in the wedding of their Uncle Brad and his love, Rachel. Congratulations to the bride and groom and also to these two little ones, who seem to have been pretty proud of themselves.

Well, Frickety, Frick, Frick, Frick!

If you've left a comment on this site since early August, I've read it, appreciated it deeply and, just minutes ago, accidentally deleted it. I should have learned by now that it doesn't pay for me to do anything important until I've been awake at least a couple of hours. But noooo, the house was quiet, and it seemed like a perfect time to do a little housekeeping on the blog.

I pulled up the page where all the spam comments are listed, checked the box that marks up to fifty comments at once and hit delete. Nothing happened. I do this routinely, about once a month, and have never had a problem with it before. I tried again. And again. Still nothing happened. I decided I'd delete them one by one if I had to but couldn't make even one of them go away.

So, I rebooted the computer and tried again. Pulled up the list, marked fifty comments with one keystroke, hit delete, and voila! They all disappeared in the blink of an eye, just as they were supposed to do. Only then did I notice that the list I'd pulled up was not the spam comments but the published ones--the ones you put in time and effort to write.

I am so sorry.

You know, I don't very often make the same mistake twice, but my capacity for making new ones is apparently unlimited.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Slow Drive, Uphill

Learning to drive was a long, slow process for me--and not an easy one after I lost confidence on my very first try. I managed to describe the learning experience succinctly in the three-word title of this post, but putting it on paper for Life Writing Class called for more details and more words:


 I have no recollection of what kind of car we were in that day, but I clearly remember what I saw through the windshield: a narrow, rutted, dirt road stretched out between two fields of tall grass and a bright blue sky that seemed bigger than the one we’d left behind in Missouri. The next image I can picture is my stepfather’s arms, in short shirtsleeves, reaching across me and grabbing the steering wheel as he shouted, “Stop, stop, stop!” I don’t recall what else he might have said. In hindsight I know what I’d have been saying if I’d been in his position, but the man I hadn’t yet started to call Daddy didn’t like cusswords and didn’t use them.

That was my first driving lesson. Last one, too. Mother had remarried weeks earlier and moved my sister and me to Texas. The plan was to get a house in the town of Orange before school started, but until then we were staying in nearby Bridge City, all of us crammed together in my stepfather’s rented garage apartment, where the sweltering August heat rose up into the two rooms plus kitchenette and the ancient window air conditioner chugged for all it was worth but didn’t stand a chance.

I don’t know whose idea it was to teach me to drive. Not mine, I’m pretty sure. Maybe my new daddy thought it would be a bonding experience. I was 14 years old, and in Texas that was old enough to get a learner’s permit. Which I never did get. My main problem--the one that scared the dickens out of Daddy--was a tendency to oversteer. When a bump in that country road had made the steering wheel jerk a fraction of an inch to the left in my hands, I’d held on tightly and steered to the right, way too far it turned out, then tried to correct that with a forceful turn back to the left, then back and forth, back and forth over the ruts, my foot on the gas pedal the whole time. After the hollering and steering-wheel grabbing, I got the car stopped, and the very short driving lesson ended. Daddy got out of the car and started walking around it, so I knew I was supposed to do the same. We traded places and he drove home. By then I knew what I’d done wrong, but I never got another lesson, so I couldn’t prove it. Not that I ever asked for a second chance; I’d scared myself as much as I’d scared Daddy.

All through high school, neighborhood carpools delivered me safely to school and back, but I had to bum rides from friends for after-school events like choir practice and play rehearsals. After graduation, when I got my first job, Mother scouted around and found a neighbor, Mary-something, who worked across the street from my office and was willing to take me to and from work for a dollar a week in gas money.

I never told anybody, but I did drive one time that first year after graduation. I went with a guy named Ted to meet some friends and go swimming (another thing everyone but me seemed to know how to do). Ted and these other people were not kids I’d known from my school in Orange; they were my best friend Jude’s friends from her school, a wilder bunch who’d gone to West Orange High. They smoked and drank beer. I’d tried to smoke but had given it up after two weeks and one pack of Kents, and I thought beer tasted nasty, so I didn’t drink it. Ted apparently liked beer a lot. When it was time to go home at the end of our date, he handed me the car keys. I looked up at him, surprised, and told him I didn’t know how to drive. He said, “There ain’t nothin’ to it,” gave me a minute’s worth of instructions and fell asleep in the shotgun seat. I drove us home.

The next time I drove I was married and living with my new husband, Bill, in Bryan, Texas. Bill had bought a little piece of land that he called “the farm” in Iola, northeast of Bryan. We’d go there sometimes on a weekend day. Two animals had come with the farm, a friendly, pregnant cow named Hoover and a mean Shetland pony called Silly. If the animals needed shelter, they could find it in the wooded area at the rear of the property or else under a rickety, wooden structure that was nothing more than one wall and a roof held up by a couple of posts. I liked the woods better myself. I’d take a book back there, sit on the ground with my back against a tree and read for hours while Bill did whatever he wanted to do. The only time I knew for sure what he did was the day he borrowed a tractor from the farm’s nearest neighbor so he could mow. When we picked up the tractor that morning, Bill said he’d drive it and I could follow him in the car. The route to the farm was a straight shot on a paved road, so the drive was an easy one.

When the mowing was done, we reversed the procedure. Bill pulled the tractor through the gate, turned and parked it beside the road, then told me to go on ahead while he locked up. He said he’d meet me at the neighbor’s in a couple of minutes. I drove our big, bulky Buick (or whatever it was) through the gate, made the tight right turn, and kept my eyes on the road ahead. Once at the neighbor’s, I waited for a long, long time. It was almost dark when Bill got there. He said I’d bumped one of the big tractor tires when I pulled out, bumped it hard enough to nudge it into a slide. I told him truthfully I’d never felt a thing, but he said the tractor was just slipping into the bottom of the ditch when he turned around after locking the gate. He said he’d stood in the road behind me and waved and waved, but I never even looked back.

By the time I drove again, baby Kim had arrived, and the big Buick had been replaced by a Volkswagen, a much smaller car that had its engine in the back. Kim was asleep and Bill wished he was, so when I mentioned that we were almost out of baby formula, he said he thought it would be good practice if I went the few short blocks to the store by myself while he stayed with the baby. I drove there tentatively and had no trouble until I’d bought what we needed and started for home. Still in the parking lot, barely moving at all, I gently eased the car backward right into a concrete pillar. A close inspection showed not even one tiny scratch on the car and too many scratches on the pillar for anybody to pick out one specific one that I’d caused. On the way home I decided there was no need to mention what had happened. It must have been a week later when Bill asked me if I’d hit something with the car. I confessed immediately and asked, “How in the world did you know that?” He said he’d tried to check the oil but couldn’t raise the hood because the bumper was pushed in about two inches.

After our second daughter, Kelli, was born and my days got busier, it soon became clear that I needed to stop relying on other people for transportation, so I drove a lot more often. I steered mostly with my left hand so I could fling my right arm across the two tiny girls bouncing around on the bench seat next to me and protect them from sudden stops and bumps. Somewhere in that time period I got a driver’s license, but I don’t remember doing it.

When Kim was five and Kelli was three, Bill and I divorced. I was working then, driving every day in a little yellow Corvair Monza convertible, shifting its four-speed transmission with ease, carrying those little girls around with a measure of confidence that didn’t accurately reflect how much I still needed to learn about driving. All I can say is we were lucky.

Then came Richard. He was my second husband, and he cared enough to pay attention to a lot of things, including how I drove. He gave me driving tips, not in a lesson, but one at a time over the course of several years. Once, when he realized that I leaned slightly forward while I drove, he figured out that I was keeping a close eye on the forty- or fifty-some-odd feet of road directly in front of the car. He explained that I needed to focus farther away, far enough down the road that I could spot a hazard before I was right up on top of it. That one change made driving a lot less scary. Another time he noticed how carefully I watched the edge of the road and the centerline to make sure I stayed between them. He suggested that I stop worrying about the edges and line myself up over the dark, oily swath that runs down the center of each lane. He said as long as my wheels straddled the greasy strip, I’d be fine. I‘d always been careful to slow down on a curve, but Richard told me I’d have better traction if I’d slow down ahead of the curve, then accelerate slightly as I went into it. He was right, and I’ve done it his way ever since. One night I asked him about the blue light that mysteriously showed up on my dashboard from time to time. I felt silly, but also quite pleased, when he told me the blue light meant that my bright lights were on. Up until then the only way I could ever be certain about the brights was to test out the headlights on a dark road or the side of a building. I’m just guessing, but the blue-light incident might have been one of the times Richard hugged me close, chuckled in my ear, and called me his “dumb blonde.” He could get away with that once in a while, because I knew that he knew I wasn’t actually dumb. Or blonde.

I’ve driven many miles between then and now, on cross-country family moves, dozens of job-related trips between Baton Rouge and Houston, daily commutes to and from work in heavy traffic. These days I don’t drive a lot. Daytime traffic is hellish, and night blindness shakes my confidence after the sun goes down. Also, I don’t know whether it’s a consequence of aging, long-term trust issues or the fact that so many people can’t seem to put their dad-gummed cell phones down for even a minute, but something has happened in recent years that makes me question the skills and good sense of every other driver on the road.

Even so, there are still times when I’m driving along and it occurs to me out of the blue how much I’m enjoying it. When that happens, when it’s a clear, sunny day and I’ve started out early and I’m on a pretty, tree-lined road where there isn’t much traffic, I get the feeling that I’d like to just keep on driving, keep on going and going until I end up someplace new and different, someplace where I can see new scenery, new faces, and have a little adventure of one kind or another. I think about how freeing it would feel to be that spontaneous. I think about how it would be such a gratifying experience that it probably wouldn’t take more than a day or two before I’d be full of it, ready to turn around and head back home to what’s familiar, what I love. I think how someday I’m going to do that, just drive away and follow the road wherever it leads me. Someday. But not that day.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Where Happy Little Bluebirds Fly

We had a hard rain yesterday afternoon. Sometime after it stopped I opened the backdoor to let the dogs out and saw this:

I didn't realize how long it had been since I'd seen a rainbow, but I bought my first digital camera in February of 2006, and these are the first rainbow pictures I've ever taken.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Lately I See Her Ribbons and Her Bows"

It's getting late, just enough of Saturday night left to post a Saturday Song Selection if I hurry. Sometime, somewhere, I read the lyrics of tonight's song described as "an exploration of woman's vulnerability"--or other words along those same lines. Vulnerability is one of several possible answers to a question that's on my mind tonight, a question about why someone I know makes some of the choices she does. Not that it's any of my business when it comes right down to it.

I'd post a link to the lyrics, like I usually do, but I haven't yet found any accurate ones online. That's okay. Joe Cocker didn't seem to know them all that well, either, and it's still a great song.

The song is "Just Like a Woman," performed by Joe Cocker.
Thanks to Steve Walker for posting the video on YouTube.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Toads Among the Princes

Our last Life Writing assignment was to make a list of all our old boyfriends and say a little something about each of them. I'd done that several sessions ago when the writing topic was "love," so I flipped the topic on its side and wrote this:


Some people say you have to kiss a lot of toads before you find your handsome prince. I say it’s just too much trouble to figure out the difference between them. My first husband didn't seem at all like a toad until I married him, then all I heard for the next six years was "Ribbit! Ribbit!"

Richard, my second husband, was a prince of a man, albeit a prince with a wandering soul. Seven times in twelve years my daughters and I followed him on his quest to expIore what was over yonder hill. When we got to Small Town, Louisiana, I said, “Enough, already!” and he promised we‘d stay. Two years later he left for California. He tried to lure us there with tales of constant sunshine and a remarkable absence of mosquitos, but we chose to stay behind.

That’s how I ended up alone and princeless in the land of the good ol’ boys, where the average guy drives a pickup truck with a shotgun mounted in the rear window and would rather die than be caught reading a book. To be truthful, I have met some above-average men over the past thirty years, even a few princes, but never that special one whose hopes, dreams and lifestyle matched up with mine.

Now that I’m retired, I don’t go out much, preferring the comfort of my own modest castle. Unless an elderly gentleman who likes assertive fat women shows up on my doorstep, my chances of falling in love again are slim. And even if I were surrounded by eager, eligible suitors, it’s exhausting just to think about the amount of time and effort it would take to distinguish a prince from a toad. A toad like these I once knew:

Toad No. 1 - Let’s call him Jake (rhymes with flake):

I’d known Jake years earlier. We’d been neighbors when Richard and I still lived in Texas, and I’d liked him a lot. When he called me one day out of the blue, said he’d been divorced for a while, would be in Baton Rouge the following weekend and would love to see me, I was thrilled. I’d always admired Jake’s calm, cool demeanor and looked forward to a pleasant reunion. And it was pleasant--for an hour or so. We talked as he drove through LSU football traffic. I learned that he was not only divorced from his first wife, who’d been my friend, but from two other women he’d married in the 16 years since I’d last seen him. The third wife had been the widow of a co-worker and good friend who’d been killed on the job. Jake had married her, he said, because his dead friend’s spirit had inhabited his body shortly after the funeral and compelled him to take care of the widow and her children. The widow had left Jake after a couple of years, but I wondered if the invasive spirit might still be around. Perhaps it was he who was driving aggressively, short-cutting through corner gas stations, driving over curbs, cutting people off right and left, swearing loudly and making rude gestures out the window. That sure wasn’t the Jake I’d known before.

Toad No. 2 - Let's call him Herbert (rhymes with pervert):

My good friend Jean and I were just starting dinner in a Baton Rouge restaurant when Herbert walked over, introduced himself, pulled out a chair and sat down at our table. I thought at first that Jean knew him; she thought I did. His dark hair, black-rimmed eyeglasses reminded me of Clark Kent. He was mild-mannered, too, pleasant enough that we didn’t ask him to leave. Over our protests, he insisted on picking up our dinner tab. Jean and I talked afterwards about how weird that was, but we agreed that he seemed harmless.

The three of us had discussed our jobs during dinner, and a day or so later Herbert looked up my work number and called to invite me out dancing. I loved to dance, so I ignored the little signals my brain was flashing and accepted. Herbert took me to a dimly lit neighborhood bar that was decorated with smoked mirrors and red-flocked wallpaper where most of the patrons were older than we were. A small combo played crooner tunes next to a stamp-sized dance floor. In between dances, Herbert ordered cocktails; I stuck with my usual, Diet Coke. Even before his hands began to wander, I’d decided I didn’t like him at all. I wasn’t sure a fake headache was enough to get me home, so I pulled out the big guns and told him I had a bad case of cramps.

At my doorway he asked if he could come in for a cup of coffee. I told him the truth: I didn’t drink coffee and didn’t keep it in the house. He said, “Well, can I at least come in for a minute and use your bathroom?” I let him in and showed him to the downstairs bathroom. He came out of it bare-chested, his shirt and undershirt draped over his forearm. I told him to get dressed and get out, and he got angry, calling me names, yelling that he hadn’t spent his good money on dinner and drinks for nothing. He made a grab for me, but I ducked out of his reach, snatched up the phone and started dialing. He threw on his shirt as he stormed out the door.

Toad No. 3 - Let's call him Peter (rhymes with cheater):

I didn’t date for about a year after Richard and I split up. Peter was one of the first men I met after that. His shiftwork schedule limited the amount of time we could spend together, but I was in no rush to move things along. Most of our so-called dates were low-key events. Sometimes we’d drive around town and talk for an hour or two, sometimes he’d stop by my house for a short visit after he got off work. I was delighted when he had a whole Saturday free and took me to the Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales. We danced, enjoyed the music, and saw a lot of people either he or I knew. We’d been dating about six weeks when I invited him to escort me to a company dinner. Peter looked nice in his coat and tie, and I was proud to be seen with him. It did pique my curiosity when he walked across the room to get a drink and spent several minutes chatting with my co-worker, Rosie (rhymes with nosy).

I was still in bed when Rosie called early the next morning. “Did you know Peter’s married?” she asked bluntly. I was stunned. I remembered the tiny sneakers I’d seen in his back seat. When I’d asked about them, he said his roommate had borrowed his car the weekend before, that the shoes must belong to his roommate’s kid. Rosie continued: “I’ve known Peter and his wife for years. I asked him last night, ‘Do you know that that’s my boss you’re with?’ and he said, ‘Well, don’t tell her nothin’, and I’ll put in a good word for ya.’”


Note: I had to edit this piece for posting here, losing a couple of funny lines in the process. One never knows who'll get their feathers ruffled if they happen to stumble across themselves in someone else's true story on the internet. Also, there was a Toad No. 4 in the original piece, but I've already told you about that one in an earlier post, so I won't repeat. 

Final thought: I love going to this class and listening to other people's stories. They're all so different, yet there are always common elements, bits that strike a familiar chord and remind one or more of us of another story yet to be written.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Making Hay While the Moon Shines

Now that insomnia has become an issue, I'm trying to make the best of it by keeping a bottle of water, a protein bar and my iPad on the nightstand. The iPad comes in handy as a flashlight, an ebook, and a quick resource for answers to most of the stupid questions that cross my mind and won't let go in the wee hours of the morning.

One of those questions last night was, "When is the lunar eclipse?" I looked it up and discovered it was happening right at that moment. Quickly collecting my bathrobe, the dogs and the camera, I stepped outside, took a few literal shots in the dark, then returned to bed and slept soundly until morning.

As proud as I felt for putting ten minutes of can't-sleep time to good use, you'd think I'd feel bad about how much time I waste during daylight hours. I don't, though. A little bit of sheepishness is all I can muster.

Friday, October 03, 2014

What I've Been Reading: Non-Fiction

While I don't think my own life story has been interesting enough to appeal to the general public, the work we're doing in Life Writing class has made me wonder what's the best way to tell it to any of my descendants who might be curious someday in the future. As a result, I've been reading a lot of memoirs lately, paying attention to where the writers begin their stories (not usually at the beginning), how the books are organized, and so forth. The books listed below held my attention as well as good fiction does, which is important, I think.

The Liars' Club (a re-read) was particularly interesting because much of it took place in a small Texas town about twenty minutes away from where I went to high school and where my sister and nieces still live. I loved the author's mention of familiar landmarks and will try to remember to put those kinds of specific details in my own stories. 

Black Boy
by Richard Wright

The Liars' Club
by Mary Karr

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

Comet's Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life
by Steven D. Wolf

Sunlight on My Shadow
by Judy Liataud

Kevin and I in India
by Frank Kusy

by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

Sweet Baby Lover
by Jule Kucera

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

What I've Been Reading: Fiction

Okay, here's the reading list I promised yesterday--at least part of it. I'll break the list into two posts to (hopefully) make it load faster. Let's start with the fiction, some old, some new, every one worth the time I spent reading it:

Coming Home
by Laurie Breton

Silent Run
by Barbara Freethy

Cracks in the Sidewalk
by Bette Lee Crosby

Elizabeth Street
by Laurie Fabiano

Unspoken Bond
by Blake O'Connor

Fade to Black
by Leslie A. Kelly

The Guestbook
by Andrea Hurst

Ellen Foster
by Kaye Gibbons

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

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Odds and Ends and Reasons to Floss

September ended with a suggestion from the man who mows my lawn that it's probably safe to cut back from once a week to every two weeks now. Yay! Lawn care is my third-biggest monthly expense, after house note and telephone/cable/internet bundle, so reducing and eventually eliminating lawn care for the cooler months serves as my version of a Christmas Club Account.


I try to get all four dogs to go outside at the same time, but that doesn't always happen. When Gimpy asked to go out yesterday, I called all the others to the door. Until I opened it, I hadn't noticed that a light rain was falling. Gimpy and Levi went outside anyway, but Lucy and Oliver steadfastly declined. That's what made it so funny afterwards when I towel-dried Levi, then Gimpy, while Lucy and Ollie queued up behind them for their turn with the towel. It reminded me of our last set of dogs (RIP, beautiful babies!), when Butch needed ear drops twice a day, and the others always lined up behind him, rolling their eyes and looking gloomy, while I pretended to put drops in their ears.


Seems like it was about this time last year when Levi and Gimpy discovered a possum on the fence. It happened again the other night:

The possum sat as still as a statue while the dogs repeatedly leaped and threw themselves against the fence. They seemed to have no fear whatsoever of the ugly creature. The next night, however, a cockroach (yuck!) got into the house and strolled boldly through the living room. I might have missed it, except that both Levi and Gimpy stood very still, swiveling their heads back and forth between the nasty intruder and me, until I got up to see what they were looking at. I killed it, of course. I guess I don't blame them for not taking care of it themselves; they weren't wearing shoes.


I've been reading, reading, reading in the daytime and at bedtime, taking a break in the evenings to watch the season's new episodes of Survivor, The Amazing Race, Grey's Anatomy and Nashville. Also burned some CDs so I'd have new tunes to listen to on weekly trips to Walmart or Life Writing Class. 

I wanted the songs in the second (bottom) CD insert to be numbered from 21-40 but couldn't figure out how to make iTunes do it that way. Meh. Teenagers may think they originated the "whatever" attitude, but I have it way more in my seventies than I did in my teens.


If you're retired, do you sometimes get your days mixed up? I missed a dental appointment a couple of weeks ago--first time I've ever done that. I knew the appointment was on the 23rd; I just didn't realize that that particular day was the 23rd until they called to see where I was. Fortunately, they had an opening later the same day, so they didn't charge me extra for wasting their morning slot. 

Wouldn't you know that my one molar that doesn't already have a crown on it suddenly needs one? I'll dig into my savings and let them fix that tooth, then I'll look forward to seeing what dentist-income source they can find to fix the next time I go in for a cleaning. They've been pushing me for years to replace my partial with implants, but I have no intention of paying for teeth that will live longer than I do.


That's about all that's going on around here. Book list coming up tomorrow.