Thursday, May 28, 2015


Several months ago I wrote my heartfelt tribute to the United States Post Office—I love receiving mail. Always have, ever since my schoolgirl days when Silver Screen arrived monthly in my rural mailbox.

Even before I fell in love with the Post Office (it will always be capitalized in my mind)—even before that love affair began, I had experienced the euphoric, dizzying, walking-on-air effects of Discovering Books. I actually discovered them in first grade; no early reading at our house, nossir, we had things to do, work to get done, no fooling around with books. A bedtime Bible story was it.

So my love of books waited for me to get to first grade at Clearspring School in Coles County, Illinois, the one-room school I’ve written about here before. If a new reader can devour books, then that’s what I did. I read everything the school had—first grade, second grade, part of the third grade shelf. The only reason I quit reading the third grade tomes was that school was out—summer vacation came—I had no school to go to. (I’ve never learned to love summer vacation time.)
The love of books, however, never waned. Next I went to a town school and lo and behold! They had even more books! Joy of joys!

Plus! (This just gets better and better.) Plus—there was a library in my town, and third graders could go and get a library card. I could take out two books at a time. Since I lived a long way from the library, I read one book on the way home, and the other one the next morning. Then I walked back to the library, returned the two I’d read, and got two more. Rapture, indeed.

Over the years I’ve learned that the library is beneficial to my health. As I approach the building, my heart beats steadily, my breath quietens. A feeling of peace comes over me.

However, no longer do I feel peace. Here’s my current dilemma—no, it’s more than a dilemma. It’s a trauma. A nightmare. An outrage.
The small town I live in has a wonderful library—building renovated in the late 1990s and now wonderfully up to date with electronic media, e-books for “borrowing,” and many CDs, DVDs, and tapes. I’ve spent many, many happy hours there, browsing, sampling, tasting.

Then they went and done it.
They completely renovated the fiction section—located on the upper floor—by reshelving all books by author. Alphabetically, thanks be. But still. . . . Whereas I used to head for the mystery section, which filled two short walls floor to ceiling, now I have to tour the whole darned floor seeking the little green Mystery label. And if an author who writes mysteries also writes love stories or sci-fi or westerns, they’re all together, cheek by jowl.

The first time I visited and discovered what had happened, I was stunned. Felt as if I’d been hit on the head. Concussed. Shocked. I’ve not recovered yet, and it’s been months now.
Why did they do that? Well, here’s what I was told: “Library patrons wanted to be able to find all their favorite author’s books in one place.” Really? Was there a petition, a movement, a referendum to get that accomplished? If so, I never knew about it. Nobody asked me, suggested it to me, took my temperature on the subject. I never even thought such a thing. Who would want that, anyway? Well, obviously, somebody did.

I haven’t made many trips to the library since The Big Move. The new arrangement still strikes me as insane and impractical.

This could be, of course, due to my great advanced age and my tendency to think The Old Ways Were Best. Sometimes they are.
My biggest gripe is this: In order to find a book, I have to know who wrote it. That means research before I even go to the library to find the author of a book known to me only by the title. And my second gripe is the time it requires to traverse the whole second floor to “browse.”

I doubt my rant will have any effect at all upon the Powers That Be in the library. Maybe it’s an innovation dreamed up by the state library system. Stranger things have happened.
If I live long enough, I hope to see the library in my town returned to a sensible shelving system—genre fiction is widespread in publishing; why not let the genres have their places on the shelves as a group? The mainstream—which is the rest of the fiction not known as genre—was formerly in the low shelves that crisscrossed the center of the room, with an aisle between two banks of shelves. All very sensible and easy to use. Is that too much to ask?

There’s a possibility that I’m reacting to change—after all, many folks don’t like change. I see it all the time—churches have continual tension between the ones who want to change this or that and the ones who say it was good enough for grandpa. Schools introduce change nearly every year—orders from on high, so you can’t blame the teachers, principal, or superintendent of the local schools—and now kids go to school year-round, with 2-week breaks here and there throughout the year. You should’ve heard the hue and cry about that one. (Oh, you have?)
But the point about change is this: Why make changes just for the sake of changing? The common phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is more than a cute saying—it’s a reminder that not everything needs to be “fixed.”

Maybe I’m not looking at the silver lining—after all, I can check out umpteen books at the library if I want to; there’s no limit that I know of. I still have them for two weeks. It’s still free except for late fees. And they still have a lot of current books as well as classics, and CDs, and DVDs. Definitely a silver lining.
But that dratted dark cloud. . . .


Thursday, May 21, 2015


When I was growing up, no one ever told me about setting goals. I don't remember hearing that word until many years later, when leaving high school and being encouraged to set goals, such as: get a job; go to college; get married. (There might have been  other goals, and I might not have been listening.)

Sometime when I wasn't looking--happens a lot in my life--the word goal began creeping into magazine stories (and I'm not talking about hockey or soccer goals). Periodicals aimed at women, who were mainly housewives in those days, suggested we Examine Our Lives and Set Goals.

In no time at all (in retrospect Time seems to collapse into a little pile and everything appears to be yesterday)--as I say, in no time at all, the setting of goals became not merely a suggestion but a Principle of the Good Life. This is not the Good Life as regards materials objects; no, this is the Good Life that assures us that every single one of us, whatever our means/status/desires, will end up Successful.

Thought I might as well give it a try, so I read the articles, the how-to books; and after the World Wide Web came into being, I browsed articles, videos, and blogs/websites on how to improve myself.
A Worthy Goal

None of it ever seemed to apply to me. My concept of a worthy goal was along the lines of: Try not to lose my temper with the kids before they go to school. Or, make sure I leave something filling in the slow cooker for supper, when the troops come home and I'm still at school (I finished my college career while the kids were growing up). Or, get that three-inch-thick novel read for American Lit. Even something simple: wear socks the same color, not one blue and one black. Those were goals.

Over the years I learned that a Daily Goal did keep life on an even keel. Paying bills before they were due and garnered a late fee. Returning library books (another late fee proposition.) Buying groceries and refilling prescriptions before I ran out of essentials. Even if I didn't meet the goal that day, I felt better knowing I'd thought about it, considered it, reminded myself of the deadline. A daily list on a planner page is my current crutch: having a target in sight helps me keep some kind of focus. Besides, if I don’t get it done today, there's (probably) another day. (Hope has played a big part in my life. Always.)

The Never-Ending List

The 5-Year Plan, though—that’s something I could never get excited about. Not even when I was much younger and figured I had many years left to look forward to. Now, at this point in my life, so what? I may not be here in five years; if I am, I’ll figure out what I want to do. My options are more limited, due to age, health problems, and interests. Why sweat the small stuff? I've spent most of my life figuring out what I like to do, what I'm good at, and what I can let go. Now I'm just enjoying what I do.

Part of my trouble with plans is estimating how much time it takes to do...whatever. For instance: If I'd known it would take four years to finish the last two years of my college degree, would I have started the journey? Or if I'd known a Master's would take me three years, including the time I spent teaching for the university as a Teaching Assistant? There's seven years right there--two beyond the 5-year plan.

Another part of the trouble I have with plans comes with culling out the things I can let go of--if I do This, then I'll have to eliminate That. Or, which of my three or four Main Interests is tops? Which receives top priority? Which second? Clearly my life has developed, as you might suspect, into the Jill of All Trades, Mistress of None. But that bothers me less than the knowledge that I might have done one thing only, and always wished I'd done two (or three or four).

People who set goals and meet them--who make 5-year plans and follow through--they all amaze me. I simply don't get it. I keep thinking: What if the plan for the next five years doesn't pan out--then what? Or, what if I'm working toward a goal that I find I don't want after all, and I've spent five years doing something that may have no relevance for my life?

Which leads me to the Meaning of Life--this is going to be different for each of us, but my take on it goes like this: Life is a gift. We didn’t ask for it; we didn’t earn it; we didn’t order it out of a catalog; we didn’t create it ourselves. We were created and Life was breathed into us. The meaning of my life depends on what I learned growing up—what I studied in school—the people who influenced me (family, friends, teachers, co-workers, bosses)—the role of the church and my faith…all these, and much more, have brought me to the point I occupy in the universe right now.

So with this gift, what I’ve gleaned about the meaning of life is this: How can I serve? Where am I supposed to be? Who needs me and how?

I don't need a guru to help me on my way. But I do need to pay attention--look around me, listen to what's going on. And I need quiet time to reflect.

Each day I learn the answers anew.

When the sand all runs
through, you turn it over
and start again....

Thursday, May 14, 2015

      Part II - Laundry

I’ve done laundry since I was fourteen: by hand, using a wash board or in the sink; in a wringer washer or automatic machine at home; at someone else's house, when I lived in apartments; in coin laundries (while living in student housing at the University of Michigan and later on when my washer conked out--that time I pulled a wagon with two kids and a ton of laundry half a mile to the laundry place).

I recall, at age fourteen, heating water in a copper boiler, filling it with buckets of cold water from the well the night before laundry was going to be done (this was Sunday night, because Monday was always washing day at Mom's house).

Another long-gone task was putting sheer curtains on curtain stretchers. Does anybody remember those? They were large wooden frames, adjustable, as I recall; the edges of the frame had small sharp nails sticking up--close together--and my mother attached the curtains on the little nails. When the curtain was hooked up all around the frame, it was stretched to its normal size and retained its shape. In a short time the curtain panel was dry enough to take it off the stretcher. Removing the curtains made little pink-pink sounds. (I was saved from multiple punctures and was never allowed to put curtains on the frames; by the time I had curtains to wash, they were synthetic and basically wash-and-wear. How decadent is that?) I recall some stuck fingers (not mine, thank heavens) that left blood on the panels and a fair amount of cussing. Clearly, keeping house was not for the timid.

I used Fels Naphtha soap (a bit harsh on the hands but it did the job) on work clothes, mainly coveralls and what we called work pants. These were heavier twill for long wear during tough jobs; my dad was a carpenter and wore jeans, mostly, but occasionally we had work pants to clean. After pants were washed and wrung dry (by hand or through a wringer on the washer), they were put on pants stretchers. These were thin metal frames, again adjustable, the shape of a pants leg, and were inserted in the legs of washable trousers, then stretched to the size of the pants leg. We hung them up to dry that way, and thus had less pressing to do later, usually just the waistbands and pockets.

Even when I finally had an automatic washer to use at home, there were always hand-wash-only items, like sweaters. They had to be re-shaped and dried flat. The goal was to get them back to the same size they were when dry. Another challenge. And I never had a sweater frame--looked like a big window screen that fit over the sides of the bathtub--so my sweaters lay around on tables and chairs and beds until they dried.

Drying clothes used to be fun—I loved hanging clothes on the line, in the sun and wind. (You can tell I wasn’t a working-away-from-home mom, can’t you?) Yes, sheets were stiff and had to be folded as they came off the line, and sometimes they got away from me when the wind was uber-strong, but the wind and sun made them feel and smell fresh. The electric clothes dryer was a great invention for inclement weather and last-minute needs. (Such as, “Mom, can you wash my jeans tonight? They’re the only ones I have!”)

Because ironing came after washing, “my basket overfloweth” was a familiar theme song, back in the day, especially for a family of six. Wash-and-wear didn’t come too soon for me. Before the kids had dresses and shirts made from synthetics and blends, their dad had dress shirts that were drip-dry. An iron never touched them. I used to regret that my mother never knew the advantages of modern fabrics and the easy-care properties they afforded the housewife. But I wonder--would she have really enjoyed having one of her jobs reduced so drastically? She took pride in a clean house, clean laundry, everything shipshape and in place. What would she have done with herself? (Since she worked away from home, I'm sure she could have used the extra time for something.)

Finally came the clothing revolution of the Sixties. My girls couldn’t be seen in dresses--they'd be laughed at--jeans were the only thing to wear. In many ways, jeans were a godsend to a busy home--wash, dry, wear. Repeat. Before long the jeans were hole-y--even better! Everybody wore jeans with holes.

Looking back (I know, here we go again), it sounds like The Simple Life--taking pleasure in everyday chores, finding joy in a big job completed in one day; but it wasn’t simple work; it was often hard work. And yet--and yet--I had fewer outside commitments to make it necessary for a “schedule,” a need to “prioritize” my tasks. For one thing, if I did all my home tasks, there was no time for much outside stuff. But, that was Back in the Day.

Despite difficulties and challenges, I still love doing laundry. Now that I have a smaller household, I can usually get everything in one load, unless there are sheets, blankets, and rugs. Or guests. (Lest you misunderstand--I don't wash the guests; but they use sheets, blankets, etc. Those I wash.)

I wouldn’t want to scrub on a washboard again, or heat water in a copper boiler and dip it out into the washer and rinse tubs the next day. But I like getting a task finished in one day, having a closet and chest of drawers full of clean things to wear. It’s a small accomplishment, nowadays. But satisfying. Satisfying.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

I never put much stock in reincarnation. Fooled around with it a little when I was in high school—made uneducated guesses about what I was “in my former life.” Always flattering, naturally. Princess in England. Avant garde writer in Paris. Celebrated musician/painter/sculptor in a civilized country like Italy, or Austria.

The truth was never to be found; hard to “prove” what you once were, if you indeed once were. But—I secretly suspected my former life was less than exemplary, exciting, or celebrated. A boulder, perhaps. Or a stump. When I managed to convince myself I’d been a mammal, I could picture myself as a rabbit. You know, running like a scared rabbit? That was me.

Recently I’ve had another look at reincarnation. It came about like this:

In 2007 my daughter came to live with me, bringing her cat and dog. When she moved away in 2009 to go to graduate school, she took the cat. The cat was smaller, easier to handle on a plane, and would more likely adapt to Arizona’s desert climate.

The dog stayed with me.

During the two years we were a household of four, the dog, whose name is Joy, became attached to me. Well, who wouldn’t? I was the source of all that makes dog life good: Walks! Food! Treats! Games! Snuggles on the sofa! We bonded well.

Daughter and cat departed. Joy and I took up a life a deux. Then came the revelations.

While I hunched over the keyboard to write, Joy sat in the hall and looked at me. I spoke to her, smiled at her, petted her if she comes by. This was repeated many times if I stayed too long at the computer. I explained that writing is work. I’m choosing words, making sentences, trying to follow a more-or-less logical thread to make a point. I’m working.

Clearly, in canine lexicon, writing does not equal work.

By accident I discovered that when I set up the sewing machine in the living room (where the TV lives and I can watch old movies while I sew), Joy approved. She'd lie in a chair directly in my sight—which means I was directly in her sight. She liked to watch me work.

Sewing was approved. So was cutting out pieces for a quilt. And ironing fabrics or table linens (or shirts when I get ambitious and want to look pressed). Running the sweeper was not quite at the top of the list, but it qualified as work. Putting up the Christmas tree. Taking down the Christmas tree. Cooking.

This scenario seemed quite familiar. Couldn’t think why. Then one day, when I had the Joy Seal of Approval for working, the light bulb over my head clicked on. Aha! I thought. Who does Joy remind me of? My mother!

“Put that book away and come dry dishes.”

“Why aren’t you dusting? You’re supposed to be dusting the living room.”

“You’re daydreaming again. Stop daydreaming and do something worthwhile.” (Like dusting, I suppose.)

Yes, Joy was on the same wavelength as my mother, who died many years ago.

Once I made that connection, I began to look for other characteristics. And I found them.

Besides Work Is Good, there’s The Look.

When I was about to leave the house and couldn’t take the dog (grocery store, library, lunching out), Joy stood in the living room, four-footed—rooted—spine straight, head up, chin forward, eyes never wavering from mine. Why aren’t you taking me? Or maybe, What do you think you’re doing?

That’s The Look.

I told her where I’m going, who I’d be with, and about when I’d be back. And I slunk out the door.

I took to calling Joy by my mother’s name—Doris Jenkins. A silly joke at first, but then I grew uneasy.

Doris Jenkins, my mother, wasn’t just a slave driver. Wasn’t only a nosy parker.

Doris Jenkins, like my dog Joy, loved me with all her heart.

Whenever I experienced the unconditional love of my dog, I was reminded: love was part and parcel of my mother’s life. She died too young, of a now treatable disease, but she loved as long as she lived. She loved people. All people. All ages. All kinds and colors. She would have been a wonderful worker for volunteer organizations that help folks in trouble. She’d seen trouble all her life and knew how it felt to be down and out. She knew the meaning of compassion.

Joy, a dog who came in out of the cold one autumn day, had been living rough. When she allowed herself to love my daughter and accept food and help, she turned into the dog who gave love from her heart.
Sadly, Joy is also no longer with us; but her legacy of love remains, and will always, in my mind, be entwined with my mother's love for me.

Reincarnation? Who knows? It doesn’t matter, really, does it? So long as the love keeps going around.